Empowering ride – 15 Aug 2022

It is a truth globally acknowledged that a functioning public transport is empowering for citizens, both financially and in terms of equality. This is especially so in the Global South where class divides become all the more glaring as far as accessibility to transport is concerned. When it comes to women, this divide is even starker. A mix of financial disempowerment, societal pressures, and embedded misogyny has kept Pakistani women out of the limited sphere of access to public transport. It is in this context that the College Education Department Sindh’s decision to ask the administrations of state-run women colleges to provide details of students who are interested in learning how to ride the two-wheeler for free is a much-needed step in the right direction. The initiative has been taken by the Women Development Department in collaboration with the Women on Wheels (WOW) and the Sindh Traffic Police.

The response, according to the reports that have come in so far, is overwhelming. Hundreds of girls have said they want to learn how to ride a motorbike and to handle the machine so that they can be more independent. This would no doubt greatly empower women who have been held back because they must depend on others – almost always on men in their families – to take them to school, to college, to work, or even just for daily chores. The interest shown by the girls in colleges in Karachi indicates that there is a huge need for such a service everywhere in the country. We can only hope this scheme will be extended to other provinces so that young women everywhere have the liberty to pursue education and their careers.

Pakistan’s public transport system, which has improved in provinces such as Punjab, is still neither dependable nor as safe as one would want it to be for women. South Asia is no stranger to women on motorbikes and one need only to look at countries like India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal to see what easy access to mobility can do for women’s education and careers. One hopes provincial governments push ahead with such initiatives and also try and offer some help to women who wish to procure and then ride motorbikes. This perhaps requires a soft loan scheme of some kind, combined with lessons on how to handle the machine and built-in safety advice, so that girls everywhere in the country are more independent. This must not however translate into the usual neglect of public transport, which at the end of the day is what any good city structure must possess.

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