These Brave Pakistani Women Are Biking Public Streets To Raise Awareness of Abuse

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In 2016, certified pre-owned car sales reached a record 2.6 million units, but as more and more people opt for environmentally friendly forms of transportation, such as biking, these numbers may start to decline. A new effort in Pakistan last month involved women across the country participating in female-only bike races in many major cities in hopes of challenging the male dominance of public spaces.

“Our strategy is simply to be visible in public spaces,” said Meher Bano to Reuters. Bano is a member of Girls at Dhabas, a feminist group that organized the races after a Lahore woman was pushed off of her bicycle last year by a group of men for not responding to catcalls.

While it’s no secret that just two and a half hours per week of aerobic physical activity, such as swimming, bicycling, or running, can decrease the risk of chronic illnesses, the motive for these bike races, organized by the Girls at Dhabas, was to encourage females to participate in public events, increase awareness, and fight the restrictions women consistently face in public places.

Women have 104 different hairstyles during their lifetime. They may not love every single one, but most of them don’t mind the wind blowing through their hair as they take to the open roads.

“I drive on these roads all the time but this was maybe the first time I got to experience them while biking,” said Humay Waseem, a rider on the 5-kilometer race around Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad. “I loved the feeling of freedom with the breeze in my hair.”

Four in 10 people try to exercise to relieve lower back pain, but the Girls at Dhabas members say that their sole reason for riding is to build on the feminist progress made by their ancestors.

“The women’s movement is as old as Pakistan but it is not something that is really talked about or written about,” said Bano.

Bano is referencing the fact that young women consistently face obstacles such as difficulty gaining employment and feeling uncomfortable in male-dominated public areas, despite the fact that more than 60% of Pakistan’s population is under the age of 30.

“It’s part of a much greater narrative that leads to harassment, it leads to violence,” she said.

One reason that makes this movement so powerful is the potential backlash that these riders face. Although Pakistan does have a small but vocal liberal movement, women who speak out and promote feminist ideas typically face significant verbal and/or physical abuse.

Studies show that even mild dehydration (1-3% of body weight) can impair many aspects of brain function, so while the riders re-hydrated following the Islamabad race, they exchanged personal recounts of dehumanization and abuse they’ve faced on the streets, citing the noticeable decline in the number of women who go out in public today.

“We are letting that space go and society is getting more narrow-minded,” said one of riders.