Woes Of A Female Cyclist In Pakistan
“I love cycling and whenever I am stressed, it’s the best way to feel good. That is why I started cycling. In the start, it was stress releaser but then I started cycling often to do small tasks,” says Wardah Noor.
Noor hails from Layyah, a city in the Punjab province of Pakistan. She is currently studying at the Lahore University of Management Sciences and shared her cycling experiences with Naya Daur.
Cycling has become quite popular in Pakistan in recent years. Cycling has emerged from a professional sport to a community-based movement across the county in the form of university cycling groups and civil society rallies etc.
While we see many cyclists on the roads, some might argue that cycling remains a privilege for Pakistani women. The Guardian in one of their articles titled, ‘People think we’re from another planet’: meet Karachi’s female cyclists quoted a few female cyclists.
In the same article, Zulekha Dawood, who runs Lyari Girls Cafe says, “We faced some resistance [from] the students of the madrassa, some religious people … [but] if you stop a girl’s path in one way, many more ways will open up.”
According to The Guardian, nearly every woman interviewed recounts catcalls, stares, and harassment. “People think we’ve come from some other planet”, Dawood said in her interview.
Noor, while sharing her thoughts with Naya Daur, was of the view that the ‘Other Planet’ analogy does make some sense when it comes to female cycling in the country.
She quoted an incident where she went out to get her cycle repaired to a place a few minutes away from her university. She was interrupted by a Rikshaw driver, a motorcyclist with his wife laughed at her.
“A motorcycle driver asked if my cycle is punctured, he was with his wife. I nodded and they both went out laughing loud at this.”
Noor acknowledged the fact that few people on the road do appreciate women cycling but they are ‘rare’. Alina, another cyclist from Lahore shares her story.
When we questioned whether living a cantonment area is a privilege when it comes to cycling, she replied that,
“While I don’t consider “can’t” a privilege. Having a safe environment where you can cycle with less traffic is a privilege.”
In another incident, Alina mentions that she once got stuck in a ditch while cycling.
“A few people including an 18-year-old boy came to help me, they were really helpful. My bike`s brake stand was twisted, they even fixed that. I didn’t feel threatened at all, in fact, it improved my confidence in cycling”, says Alina.
It was a few months ago when religious parties objected to a female cycling rally in Peshawar city, the organizing NGO had to put the event on hold citing security and safety of participants.
Even cities like Karachi and Lahore, people tend to cycle in groups and particularly women.
Another female cyclist requesting her anonymity to be maintained was of the view that she only feels comfortable when she cycles along with a group of people including her male friends.
“You can feel the piercing stare of people because it is an odd sight, seeing a girl cycle on the street”, she mentions.
While commenting upon the experience, she says that it makes her feel a little awkward but also somehow boosts her confidence to be different.
Whether its the moderate urban populace of Karachi or Lahore or a small town like Lyari, girls cannot be deterred when it comes to cycling quotes The Guardian while talking to female cyclists in Lyari, Karachi.
“Because if girls ride a bicycle then they can also ride a motorcycle. I think it’s also jealousy at seeing girls getting ahead.”, says Habiba Allahdad to Guardian.
Naya Daur Media (NDM) is a bi-lingual progressive digital media platform aiming to inform and educate Pakistanis at home and abroad.