WHAT would have been Peshawar’s first women bicycle rally, slated for Saturday, was indefinitely postponed by its organisers — who had billed it as a “progressive and peaceful” event — following threats of protest by local religious groups and the JUI-F and JI, who claimed it would promote “vulgarity and obscenity”.

To add insult to injury, according to media reports, despite the organisers having obtained permission from the district administration, the police claimed ignorance of the event — with one JUI-F spokesperson stating that the authorities had, in fact, endorsed their views.

The KP directorate general of sports, moreover, inserted itself into the administrative imbroglio to offer its own clarification — not in support of the women-led sports event but to distance itself from it.

That the PTI-led KP government would capitulate to such pressure is particularly galling given the fact that a notable feature of the party’s rallies and sit-ins in opposition was its high female turnout, a presence the PTI defended against incidents of harassment and misogynistic remarks by its opponents.

Read more: Blame game follows cancellation of women’s cycle rally

Pakistani women, having borne the brunt of marginalisation under Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation drive, have made many strides to reclaim their right to city spaces. There have been multiple women-organised events in recent years to demonstrate the possibilities of an inclusive urban experience in which women (including transgender women) can access public spaces free of the fear of harassment and violence.

Read more: Why the Aurat March is a revolutionary feat for Pakistan

Besides meetings and marches, a much-needed feature in our urban centres has been that of women-led sporting events such as bicycle rallies.

The last Punjab government, too, supported this drive for increased women’s visibility — a staple of female empowerment — through an initiative to get women driving motorcycles and scooters.

Explore: WoW: Women On Wheels hit the road in Lahore

This was a far cry from 2005, when activists (including the late Asma Jahangir) were baton charged and taken into custody by police in Lahore for attempting to stage a mini-marathon to highlight arbitrary curbs of women’s rights by religious parties — a charge proved true by their strong-arm tactics against similar marathons at the time.

The positive image of women, in small but increasing numbers, being able to navigate and celebrate in public spaces — of a country that rejects and defies regressive forces — cannot be underestimated.

Simply put, the KP government should have shown, if not outright alliance with their female constituents, then at least some spine. Local authorities can still rectify this, provided that they emphatically throw their weight behind the women bicycle rally.

Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2019



24 Jan, 2022

Anti-extremism policy

HAD there been more far-sighted policymaking on the part of the state and an understanding of how religious ...
Government’s silence
Updated 24 Jan, 2022

Government’s silence

A MAJOR trial is underway in London during which Pakistan has repeatedly been mentioned as the place where payment...
24 Jan, 2022

Cutting mangroves

FOR Karachi, the mangrove cover along its coastline is a thin line of defence against potential oceanic and climatic...
Yemen atrocity
Updated 23 Jan, 2022

Yemen atrocity

The sooner this war is ended, the better, to halt the suffering of Yemen's people and ensure security of all regional states.
23 Jan, 2022

Regressive taxation

THE FBR appears to have kicked up a new and unnecessary controversy by serving notices on currency dealers to ...
23 Jan, 2022

Medico-legal flaws

ON Friday, a 13-page verdict authored by Justice Ali Zia Bajwa of the Lahore High Court revealed a shocking fact...