ON Friday, hundreds of women were issued driving certificates and employment with a ride-hailing service at a packed event organised by Women on Wheels in Karachi. A few months earlier, these women had received training after the initiative was first launched in the city in November 2019. And there are now plans to extend the programme to other parts of Sindh. Since its inauguration in Punjab four years ago, WoW has tried to empower thousands of women to ride motorcycles, along with offering them subsidised bikes, as a way to encourage women’s mobility and normalise their presence on the roads. While Pakistani women have made great strides over the years, and more and more women enter the workforce each year, the mere sight of a woman riding a motorcycle to reach her destination is still seen as an anomaly here. Typically, women sit at the back of the motorcycle, behind a male member of the family, often nestling a child or two precariously in their laps, while their flowing dupattas or abayas risk getting entangled in the wheels of the motorcycle — which is a common cause for accidents.

Women riding motorcycles or bicycles — to get to work, to run errands, or simply for leisure — are an everyday sight in many parts of Asia, including some Muslim countries. Unfortunately, Pakistan lags behind the rest of the world in many regards, and the belief that ‘good’ women do not leave their homes or have lives independent of men is still persistent. Hopefully, with the continuation of initiatives such as WoW, the sight of women on wheels will become so commonplace within a few years that it will not raise eyebrows nor lead to lewd comments and leering — in other words, it will be a journey as comfortable as it is for men. After all, it is only fair that half the country’s population receives its full right to occupy public space without fear of harassment, intimidation and judgement.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2020

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