WOW is the Word.
Now women can look forward to having the same sense of empowerment and the same mobility and independence that men have.
It was a scorching hot day. As the family car was not available, for the very first time in my life, I found myself standing on the roadside, waiting for a rickshaw or some other means of public transport, to take me to the university. The time for my class to begin was approaching and the exam I was supposed to conduct depended on my presence. Perspiration was soaking the envelope I was holding. I stood there for I don't know how long but soon, I had an eye-opening experience. While standing for transport and loaded with papers, laptop and other stuff, as a woman, I was scrutinized by almost every second passer-by. Some were just plain curious while others had that lustful harassing look. I had never experienced this before. On reaching the university, I shared my experience with my colleagues. To my horror, all this was a norm. Rather, in the month after my public transport episode, I experienced and heard many horrifying incidences of women having to face while using public transport. That's when I decided to purchase my own motorcycle. It has been more than a year since I have had it and I ride it to the university regularly. I feel I am blessed to be commuting so independently, efficiently and cost-effectively.
Women on motorcycles are rare everywhere in the world but definitely not unheard of. In the early 1980s, a program was initiated in the US by some women that was called Women on Wheels (WOW). The purpose of this community was to create awareness that this mode of transport was equally effective for women as it was for men. They wanted to help women realize the mobility, independence and social empowerment that this low-cost and easy-to-learn mode of transport offers. The first few members of WOW made an effort once a year to come together in order to stay in touch, find old friends and make new ones. Veterans were always supportive of young women joining the group. Today, in the USA, this fraternity has grown to the extent that they have started a bimonthly magazine in which they share their stories, joys and learning experiences. They also have product reviews and motorcycle-related information.
In Pakistan, women bikers are growing every day. The pace of growth is still slow but when women look at other women using motorcycles, they are encouraged to adopt this form of transport. Now women riding motorcycles is actually becoming a positive activity that enhances their self-esteem. This is also a challenge for stereotyped social beliefs. It helps women to realize that they too can have limitless potential and can accomplish any goal in life. Instead of being a burden on their families, they can actually become their active support systems. They are not dependent anymore on their male family members to pick and drop them and they don't wait at bus stops for long hours. In many instances, this new-found mobility has given women the confidence to do outdoor chores on their own. They are finding that their independence in terms of transportation has given them new empowerment.
Following my example, many girl students at my university have started using motorcycles. They are so happy that they can help their fathers and brothers in paying utility bills, buying groceries and getting other things done. Their lives have transformed from being dependent on others and being bound to the time schedules of the family in line with the availability of transport. Everyone in the family now has more productive time. Some women have even revealed that their incomes have increased because they have taken up jobs as data collectors and marketing agents which they could not have done otherwise. Having their own motorcycles has expanded their occupational choices. A motorcycle is available for less than 70,000 PKR on instalments and is an affordable means of transport. However for those coming from under-privileged backgrounds, especially students, the money is still not easy to pay.
It is commendable that the Pakistan government wants to empower women both financially and socially and has started a motorcycle funding scheme under which it will provide 10,000 motorcycles at subsidized prices in five large cities of Punjab. The Government also calls the initiative, Women on Wheels (WOW). The Bank of Punjab is subsidizing pink Honda CD 70 motorcycles for such girls and women whose monthly family income does not exceed 30,000 PKR. At zero mark up and with a very simple application procedure, this seems to be a blessing for under-privileged women who now have the opportunity to become part of a growing class of independent, self-sufficient and empowered individuals.
It is also learnt that after Punjab, the Women on Wheels programme will also be launched in Karachi - a city that is acutely starved for public transport and where women users of public transport suffer the most.
The motorcycle for a woman is a hassle-free, harassment free, cost-effective, liberating and empowering mode of transport. It saves time and opens new avenues of development in all spheres of life. It must be underscored, however, that the motorcycle is not a very safe mode of transport. Proper training, safety helmets, a riding licence, road safety sense and proper dress with respect to weather conditions and propriety, are some necessary and basic conditions that must be fulfilled before adopting the motorcycle as a personal mode of transport.