Sindh’s first Women on Wheels (WOW) graduation ceremony and issuance of driving licences saw the Arts Council of Pakistan auditorium packed with so many women, especially young women cheering for each other on Friday.
Shaheen Sultan was not sure where she was supposed to go when she reached the Arts Council gates.
“You know, I’m going to receive my certificate today. I can ride a motorbike now. I am so happy,” she beamed, as someone directed her to the auditorium.
She told Dawn that she got married very early and was now a mother of five too. “I always used to feel bad about burdening my husband with errands such as getting groceries or dropping the kids to school. I used to think if I could ride a bike like my husband I could do it myself. And now I can. The only thing I need now is my own bike. Then there will be two shiny motorcycles parked in our little parking lot at home,” she smiled.
The Women on Wheels, a project of Salman Sufi which started from Punjab in 2018, has now come to Karachi with the support of the Sindh government.
The Women on Wheels programme is set to expand its reach to other parts of the province
In its first phase, some 500 women learned how to ride motorcycles at the University of Karachi. Two months on, the first batch was ready to receive their certificates. A select few were also awarded licences. And saving the best for last, Careem presented one of them with a brand new motorcycle through a lucky draw.
Senior journalist Mubashir Zaidi, the moderator for the event, said that the man behind the project, Salman Sufi, was aiming to have 10,000 women riding their bikes in Sindh by Women’s Day on March 8. “Women on Wheels is not just a trend, it is a way to see women enter practical life by getting jobs,” he said.
Mr Sufi said that thanks to the project there was no reason why women should be left behind at home while the men went about their work. “We were also used to seeing women seated at the back, behind the men on bikes. That image should soon become history now,” he said.
“Women are not second-class citizens. They need to be encouraged and empowered. We will also launch this project in the interior of Sindh,” he said.
Low-interest loans for women to get bikes
Asad Khan of Careem also said that females riding motorbikes on the road was a powerful statement.
“Having more women riding bikes on the road can change mindsets and perception. It can change the entire narrative. Female representation is important for the country to grow. Mobility can give lots of women independence,” he said, adding that their company would soon be launching a new women customer-specific transport service for which they will be hiring some 10,000 female riders.
He also said that partnering with JS Bank they would also be helping women buy bikes with a five per cent mark-up.
Sindh Women Development Minister Shehla Raza said that if the women in Nepal could ride motorbikes so could the women in Pakistan. “Even I would like to learn how to ride a motorbike,” she said, adding that they would be introducing the WOW project in the Sindh budget for allocation.
She also urged the women to take self-defence seriously. “It is also a part of the bike riding training programme,” she said.
PPP MPA Faryal Talpur said that it was strange that women who constitute 51 per cent of Pakistan’s population are always seen behind the men here.
She said that in India even the rural women know how to ride bikes. “They take the food they have cooked for their husbands to the fields on their bikes. They also drive tractors. There is always a need to make your women independent,” she said.
She also pointed out how in Tharparkar there were some 50 women truck drivers doing the work of men. “Change is also happening here. As their parents or as members of society, we should encourage our women to step out of their homes like the men do. The PPP is always there to support you,” she said before distributing certificates among the first batch of 500 women.
Five women were also presented with motorcycle licences while Rizwana Shireen was also presented with a free motorcycle as her name came up in the lucky draw.
Sindh government spokesperson and Chief Minister’s Law Adviser Barrister Murtaza Wahab was also present on the occasion.
Originally published in Dawn, January 25th, 2020