Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Printed Pakistan Today 03 April 2012
by Rabia Ahmed

Why don’t women ride bikes in Pakistan?

She sailed past my car as the light turned amber, a woman on a bicycle, and no, she was not a passenger, she was at the wheel. We were all, she, I, and the men staring bug eyed at her (I have to admit I was bug eyed myself) in DHA, just opposite Masjid Chowk in Lahore that bastion of Punjabi ghairat.

Wonder, worry, excitement, all rattled around in my head like a box of liquorice allsorts. Who was she, and why was she doing this? Was she aware of the looks, laughter and lewd comments that rained about her? How wonderful that someone had the courage to do this! I prayed she was a harbinger of some huge change.

She was clearly not a bike rally contestant in training. Wearing a pink shalwar kameez, yellow dupatta and beat-up chappals, she rode an inexpensive bicycle, what used to be Rustum or Sohrab, black and scratched with a paranda hanging off the handlebars. I judged her to be a cleaning lady on her way to work.

I drove alongside her, trying to catch her expression, and you know what, she looked neither worried nor scared. Whip-cord tough she was cycling quite effortlessly. To someone who has cycled, albeit not in the land of the censorious, and was aware that even a flat stretch of road develops Himalayan slopes and grand canyons for cyclists, this indicated one thing and one thing alone: she was used to this particular exercise.

I had a wild urge to follow her, to shield her with my car from the jeers and more that would surely come her way, to congratulate her when we both stopped, to caution her, offer her a job on the spot, anything, but then she turned away from my route and I was left writing this.

You’d think that in a country like Pakistan where women work in spite of purda and other constraints they’d be riding bicycles and motorcycles not because they wanted to but because they must, but they don’t. And when they do use either of these modes of transport, as passengers, they sit side saddle.

Have you ever tried sitting side saddle on a bike of any sort? I have, behind my husband when he offered to show me around his farm and surrounding land on a motorbike. In the five short minutes while I was seated behind him and before I fell off, my respect for Pakistani women went up a hundred fold, mingled with anger.
I thought of all those women dressed in trailing fussy clothes and gold sandals seated side saddle behind their lord and master, children in front, behind and in between, infants on laps, the whole family going to visit the jumma bazaar or some other dazzling place of entertainment…and don’t shoot me, I know there’s little choice.

Can the Pakistani male not even handle the sight of a woman seated astride a cycle? And this, the home of Fatima Jinnah, Nigar Ahmed, Bilquis Edhi, Mukhtaran Mai and Asma Jahangir!

Indian men are clearly stronger. I asked an Indian friend if women cycled in India, and she said she used to cycle herself some years ago ‘when I went to school, college etc, in a small town and got heckled, followed and once, even fondled. Thankfully the same is no longer true. Women in the cities use scooters. They ride pillion, side saddle as well as astride. Schoolgirls and boys use cycles to go to and from school and they are mostly unchallenged and unbothered. Of course I'm talking about Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and cities where I've lived/visited. In Punjab it’s a bit more conservative.’

In which case (as in many other instances), Pakistan has gone backwards. I know that my aunts biked many miles to university and medical school about fifty years ago in Lahore, as did other cousins for a decade more. And then what happened?

The Pakistani male needs to understand that expressing his manhood is not about being able to spit long and accurately right in someone’s path just before they pass, and it is definitely not about keeping his woman in a cage, especially not those in the Punjab, who could do with the exercise.

My friend also wrote, ‘Our aunties told us to stop riding bicycles because we would get muscular legs, and then who would marry a girl with fat thighs?’

And that does not apply to the Punjab either.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


If you have any comments, please leave them here. They will be published after moderation. Automated comments will be deleted.To contact me please leave a comment. If you do not wish that comment to be published please say so within the message. Thank you.