By Tanya Khan
This article was originally posted on Newsweek
Women in Pakistan face significant challenges. Honor killings, forced marriages and sexual harassment are among the worst, and most visible, offenses, but the pervasive misogyny is no less prominent on the country’s roads, where men can often deride and harass women drivers, prompting many to seek male ‘protection’ while driving. The harassment tends to be worst for women on bicycles or motorcycles, traditionally considered “men only” vehicles. The sight of women on motorcycles is so rare that images of women on public roads have gone viral on social media amid calls for greater government support for the “pioneers.” The Special Monitoring Unit (Law and Order), in collaboration with City Traffic Police Lahore and U.N. Women—an organization dedicated to gender equality—hopes to achieve this with Women on Wheels, Pakistan’s first government-sponsored training program for women who want to ride motorcycles.
“We [the Punjab government] want to make sure that women feel empowered” and at par with men, says Salman Sufi, the head of the law and order wing. By training them to ride motorcycles, which are a much cheaper alternative to cars, women can become more independent, he added. To start off, 150 women are being trained by the City Traffic Police at their Thokar Niaz Baig office. Imtiaz Rafiq, who is supervising the lessons, says over 60 women have been trained in the past three weeks using motorcycles donated by Honda.
The training process is designed to ensure even complete novices can achieve mastery of the vehicle within a few weeks, says Lady Traffic Warden Sidra Saleem. Each class starts with the basics of learning how to achieve balance on a bicycle. Once this has been achieved, they are taught the basics of ABC: Acceleration, Brake and Clutch, using actual motorcycles. In addition to informing the trainees about traffic rules and the basics of driving, says Saleem, the women are also taught how to overcome common problems encountered by motorcyclists.