There were bandanas, shin and knee guards, goggles and of course, the women wearing them with their motorbikes all getting ready for the Women on Wheels (WoW) Mega Rally on Abdul Sattar Edhi Avenue organised by the Salman Sufi Foundation in collaboration with the Government of Sindh’s Women Development Department to mark International Women’s Day on Sunday.
Ayesha Zamir, one of the young trainee riders, who was there with her sister Amna, said that they grew up riding on a motorcycle with their father who now encouraged them to ride their own bikes.
When we registered ourselves in the Salman Sufi’s WoW programme at Karachi University in January, we saw so many women there who were overwhelmed by the motorcycles,” she told Dawn.
“Some said they will never be able to handle such a heavy machine as they were not built strong or big themselves like men, some had not even ridden a bicycle before so weren’t sure if they could balance a motorcycle. That’s when I realised that men don’t hold us back as much as we do ourselves. Thankfully, all successfully learnt to put their fears aside and ride,” she said.
‘It feels so great to say goodbye to public transport’
Naheed Anwar was there with her aunt Ayesha Aziz, and both were very excited to be taking part in the rally. “It feels so great to say goodbye to public transport,” said Naheed.
Ayesha said they had joined the WoW programme on Jan 27 and by Feb 4 they could easily ride motorcycles.
“There were classes from 12pm to 2pm and from 3pm to 5pm and we could opt for the timing which suited us,” she said, adding that they had not yet bought motorbikes of their own but they were being offered to get them on easy installments after they were given their licences.
Watching them from across the road while also there to provide security during the rally were Head Constable Bushra Iqbal of the Special Security Unit of the Sindh police dressed in her smart black uniform and ready with her heavy Suzuki bike. Speaking to Dawn she said she was taught how to ride a bike by her younger brother some six years back. Nearby was Lady Police Constable Samavia Abbasi in complete white waiting on her official white heavy bike.
Samavia said she was taught how to ride a bike by her colleagues in the traffic police. “Now I chase ladies in cars if they carry out any traffic violation on Sharea Faisal,” she said.
The rally was attended by hundreds of WoW trainees who showcased their skills and prowess. Most also had pillion riders. Besides teaching them how to ride motorcycles, WoW aims to provide the women riders with employment opportunities too. They have been taught about road safety, too. The programme was officially launched in Punjab in 2016 where 10,000 women learnt how to ride motorbikes across the province. In Karachi, it was officially launched in November 2019 where over 3,000 women registered.
Speaking on the occasion, Salman Sufi said that it was not just a motorcycle rally that they were organising on International Women’s Day, it was in fact a message that women could do everything. “They can be everything that they want to be and do anything that they want to do,” he said.
Alia Shahid, secretary, Women Development Department, said that logistics support opens the doors to legal, social and economic empowerment of women.
The Ambassador of Sweden in Pakistan, Ingrid Johansson, said there were only positives with women empowerment.
Sindh’s Minister for Women Development Shehla Raza said that when women could fly fighter jets in the Pakistan Air Force, when a woman could be the prime minister of Pakistan, then should she not be able to ride a motorcycle.
The Salman Sufi Foundation has a vision to train 500,000 women across Pakistan by 2025. The ultimate aim of the campaign is to empower women to reclaim public spaces in the country as well as inspire them to become agents of change.
Originally published in Dawn, March 9th, 2020