10/16/2021

Bike Riding for Females in Pakistan

Rahila Qaiser practices riding a motorcycle. Credits: Shashank Bengali/Los Angeles Times

A blog about the women bike riders: issues faced and solutions.

Mobility has been one of the biggest issues for women all around the world. In South Asia, in Muslim countries, women are dependent on the male members of their families. In some families, women cannot go out of their houses without a man accompanying them. They must wait for their male family member to get free and take them where they need to go. Though there is no legal restriction on women in Pakistan regarding transportation but socially they are allowed to drive cars only and of course not every household can afford a car.

Why women need bikes?

Many women are driving cars, but they have their own issues. They get harassed by men drivers on road. There are many stereotypes about woman drivers like they can’t drive properly and are the major cause of all road accidents. Those who cannot afford a car either use Careem/Uber, rickshaw or public buses for their daily commute which takes up a good amount of money. Motorcycles are a cheap option for transportation but in a patriarchal society like Pakistan, it is considered a vehicle of men.

Initially, bikes were adopted because they were cheap and easy to travel during rush hours. For a Pakistani woman owning a motorcycle and riding is generally considered a no-go area, although the trend is changing. They are supposed to sit behind a man on a motorbike. That too with their both legs on one side which is not only risky but also very uncomfortable. She cannot straddle the pillion seat. To sit otherwise is considered destruction of female modesty. Interestingly these rules are unwritten, unspoken, and unbreakable. 

Still, there are many women who ride bikes, but they are mostly in big cities like Lahore, Faisalabad, Islamabad, and Karachi. They get harassed and judged on their dressing. With more awareness on the subject, now people take their pictures and share on social media with powerful captions.

Pink Riders

Pink rider is an institution that gives bike riding training to women. Payaam-e-Khurram is founder of this organization. Pink riders have facilitated a movement that visualizes independent, contributing citizens of both genders. This collective team of female bikers is redefining gender perceptions and actively changing behaviors through their own initiatives.

Women on Wheels

Another international, family-oriented organization Women on Wheels is doing a lot in this regard. It was founded in 1982 by the former Director-General of the Punjab Chief Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit and activist Salman Sufi, who has worked for rights of women, minorities, and sanitation workers. They are serving to unite all female motorcycle supporters while promoting a positive image of the motorcycling lifestyle. Whether you are a rider or passenger, a beginner or expert rider, women of all ages and skill levels, and all motorcycle and scooter types are welcome.

Increasing awareness

This is the need of the hour that our females come forward and ride on roads. With the passage of time, awareness is increasing in this regard. There is seen some awareness in young girls of modern cities of Pakistan. Few girls have been seen on roads riding their scooter and bikes, this is appreciative. But the thing is to know what the circumstances and experiences behind this journey were. How they got inspired and decided to come on the roads as a rider. I happened to meet a female bike rider in Kinnaird College for Woman University, Lahore. She is a student in the 8th semester in the Linguistic department. She told me that her family supported her to ride a bike to and from college. She always wanted to ride a bike. With her family’s support, she was able to get over this taboo. She says that now she feels more confident as she doesn’t have to wait for her brother to get free and drop her college.

Comfortable dresses need of the hour

A big problem for these women riders is their dress. As per the Pakistani social structure, a man can ride a bike even in a dhoti but women must wear abaya and cover her head with dupatta or scarf if she plans to ride a bike.  It is not easy for women to carry long dresses on bike. So, smart and comfortable clothing is needed for female bike riders. The society will take time to accept women with their choice of dressing till then we will have to bring some comfortable dressing options for female bike riders.

There exist both awareness and stereotypes about this topic in our country. We should know why it is necessary and why we need it. As we know a nation cannot progress without involving women in every sphere of life. And women cannot be independent if they cannot move freely and what could be better than a bike for that. The aim and need are to open our minds and be accepting of women riding bikes.