Women on wheels are there to reclaim their public spaces
Despite coming from the land of Indus Valley civilization that prayed goddesses, the Pakistani society has only grown more patriarchal with time. Sadly, most of the ‘traditions’ and ‘values’ that define Pakistani society involve keeping women confined to the boundaries of their homes and culture. When we read the old folklores and Sufi literature we find how strong a woman was in those days. We have only walked backward with time when the case should have been opposite otherwise.
Apart from many other factors that hinder a woman’s progress and independence, mobility is one major factor. Until some time ago, even driving cars was only for women from the educated strata of life. leave aside riding a bike. Things are changing and a little birdie tells us that these are destined to change even more for good.
‘Women on wheels’ a project of Punjab Government in 2016, aimed to bring the women back to wheels and reclaim their public spaces. It is obviously not easy for everyone to afford a car. If women feel safe and confident to ride bikes, can there be anything better than that for women empowerment?
This project was initiated by Salman Sufi, Ex-Director General of Strategic Reforms Unit, with a batch of just 40 women in Lahore. The idea was to give women independence and economic empowerment via mobility which I considered to be a key factor. They trained over a hundred women and arranged a rally, first of its kind in Pakistan, to reclaim the public space. Since this rally was a huge success, it was decided to take it forward. In a span of just one year over four thousand women were trained to ride motorbikes.
The Strategic Reform Unit launched a subsidized motorbike scheme in 2018 to encourage women to own their own bikes. Around seven hundred motorbikes were distributed in the first phase. Around twenty-three hundred bikes were to be distributed in the second phase but unfortunately, this project also fell victim to political dynamics. The new government decided to put a halt on all former government projects.
The impacts of Women on Wheels project can still be seen on the roads of Pakistan. To be honest, if I recall my childhood there were rarely any women in bikes on roads. The statistics today are much more promising. However, there is still a long way to but the silver lining makes our hearts smile.
Such movements always have long-lasting impacts. You can sense, you can smell, you can hear those whisper hope. And we can see sunshine breaking through the creaks in dark clouds.
Albeli is a scooty/bike ride service in Lahore exclusively for the women. The aim is to reclaim public spaces and provide economical ride facilities to the women. A project of Amna Qaiser, an NCA graduate, is the creative mind behind this service. Before we book a ride, their social media campaign which oozes happiness and smiles has our heart tucked right in.
Very recently, we also came across another heartening post on Instagram. This is about an initiative called My Scooty by the students of Habib University exclusively for women by women.
It wasn’t long ago when we also heard about the all-women delivery fleet of KFC Pakistan.
These are only a few examples that illustrate the beginning of a new dawn. It takes only one ray of sunshine to break the darkness of a deep cave. Women on Wheels project is the candle which is continuing to light the room despite strong winds and hurricanes. We only hope the very best for the future of this project.
It is high time for women to reclaim their public spaces. It is now or never.