Cycling in Pakistan offers a chance for equality and wealth
A Route to Equality
According to a recent* study of Newsweek magazine, Pakistan is among the bottom ten countries of the world when it comes to the status of women. Men are considered superior to women in ways that are so strongly embedded in Pakistan's cultural values that it seems difficult to uproot them. Brothers getting more food than their sisters or sisters doing chores for their brothers are just two instances of accepted gender discrimination. In such a society riding a bike would advocate independence, while being on one’s own is considered manly.
Therefore encouraging men to accept women riding bicycles would be met with strong resistance. The Pakistani population is generally anti-west with the murder of over 30,000 people of Pakistan often being blamed on the secret agencies of India, Israel and US. Since riding a bicycle is considered a western practice in Pakistan, many are unlikely to accept it. Should more women start riding bicycles they are likely to have to bear negative consequences which could even be as ugly as the fate of Fareeda Kokikhel Afridi, a women's rights activist who was shot dead by armed gunmen in broad daylight.
Regardless of the medium of transport, women should still be escorted by a male through the streets of Pakistan. “I am among the few women in my hometown who were fortunate enough to get university education and now I want a job,” explains Amina Khan, a graduate of Quaid-e-Azam University. “But I can’t work because I don’t have anyone at home to take me to work each day.”
Although Pakistan is one of the Next Eleven, the eleven countries that have a high potential to become the world’s largest economies in the 21st century, 20% of the population still live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day. Enabling women to be independent would have an immediate positive impact on Pakistan’s GDP through job creation and labour mobility. Bicycles are relatively cheap to use and maintain in comparison to cars and offer more flexibility than public transport. Women using bicycles would also avoid extra inflationary pressure on the ever-increasing price of fuel.
In order to change the long-standing gender traditions the whole population will need to be equally educated on the potential benefits of women becoming more independent. As a Next Eleven country there is clearly potential for vast economic growth, and increasing the low number of working women will enable this to be quickly realized. Cycling in Pakistan is not just a healthy activity but has become an economic necessity.
Note: The arguments cited in this article may not apply to all, especially those belonging to the elite or upper middle class, but can be generalized to the majority of women in Pakistan.