Learning to ride a bike brings about positive change in women’s lives, moot in Karachi told

<p>Flanked by Arif Hasan (left) and Seema Liaquat, Payam-i-Khurram of Pink Riders speak about women who learn how to ride motorcycles to make life easier for themselves and their families. — Photo by the author</p>
Flanked by Arif Hasan (left) and Seema Liaquat, Payam-i-Khurram of Pink Riders speak about women who learn how to ride motorcycles to make life easier for themselves and their families. — Photo by the author

KARACHI: “I have been living in the same neighbourhood all my life and for years no one had even seen my face. That’s how I was going to school, going to college and university until I started riding a motorcycle. Then everyone noticed,” said Anum Batool, a Karachiite, who learned how to ride a motorcycle through Pink Riders, a bike riding institute for females.

She was speaking at a programme to highlight women’s mobility issues organised by the Urban Resource Centre (URC) at their office here on Tuesday.

“Today I see women worried about how they are going to ride a motorcycle or how to avoid people’s gaze when they see them on a motorcycle. I want to tell them that I was like them. I had the same fears. But I also had an over Rs35,000 monthly transport expenditure staring me in the face. I had to do something about it,” she smiled.

“When you get going, maybe, some men would stop and try to help you if your motorcycle or car broke down on the road sometime but there will be no one there to tease you or point fingers at you,” she said.

High cost of travelling termed major factor that compels women to learn riding

Payam-i-Khurram, the founder of Pink Riders, said that five or six years ago, people could not even begin to imagine Pakistani women riding motorcycles.

“The women here, too, were not comfortable with the idea and when we started offering riding lessons to women we met with opposition, too,” he said.

“But there is a reason why women lose out on good job opportunities here. It is because they have transportation issues due to which they try to work from 9 to 5 and not during odd hours,” he said.

“Still there are women out there whose nature of job keeps them at work till late such as shopping centres and mall staff, restaurant staff and hospital staff. They spend around 40,000 rupees or more on their monthly transportation. I was also approached by a mother of three daughters who were studying and whose combined transportation expenditure was 60,000 rupees,” he pointed out.

Payam-i-Khurram also spoke about women who were at home, homemakers and other women who were dependent on the men in their houses for grocery shopping, clothes shopping or for the paying of bills.

“And there were their husbands and brothers running all kinds of errands from getting them fresh coriander leaves to getting their dupattas picoted. When these women moved towards mobility, it also made the lives of the men in their house easier.

“Suddenly, the women were going out to the chemist to fill their father-in-law’s prescriptions. They were dropping off the kids to school, tuition or Taekwondo classes. Times are changing. Whereas we started out with teaching 14 or 15 girls how to ride motorcycles, we have 400 to 500 at a time now. There are already 9,500 women riding motorcycles on the roads,” he said.

The founder of Pink Riders also spoke about subsidies that can bring down their regular teaching fees from Rs12,000 to Rs3,000 only.

He also spoke about teaching female students self-defence since he also happens to be a Kukishin-style black belt martial artist. “On top of that, we also take care of licence fees and accidental insurance,” he shared.

Fatima Matanat shared details of research on women’s mobility in collaboration with Stanford University in the US that has made possible subsidised fees for women learning how to ride motorcycles and also assistance in buying motorcycles on easy instalments and a low mark-up through the Kashf Foundation.

Architect and town planner Arif Hasan spoke about positive change such as what was being seen with women riding motorcycles now. “Women riding motorcycles is a positive change in our society. With time, such changes become trends and you become trendsetters,” he said.

“After 10 years, you will not even worry about things such as what people would say if they see you riding a bike. Parents of girls riding motorcycles would also take it as a very normal thing,” he added.

Earlier, Seema Liaquat of URC said that their organisation highlights issues of urbanisation while looking for the solutions through such discussions.

“When it comes to mobilisation of women, you see several things coming under the topic such as their vehicles, traffic jams, family concerns, people’s impressions, etc. Of course, there is encouragement and support, too, but not as much as there should be,” she said.

Published in Dawn, By Shazia Hasan June 21st, 2023