Shifting your dupatta constantly in an attempt to avert unsolicited stares, wearing full sleeves, putting on less make up – the almost mechanical routine that most women follow every day makes navigating around the city, alone, incredibly tiring. Cherry on top, roadside harassment and catcalling have only increased with the passage of time. You cannot possibly cover one block without being catcalled or whistled at.
Amidst all this bedlam, a group of girls from Lahore have chosen not to give in to the pressures of the society and do their thing, despite everything.
Earlier this year, Aneeqa Ali was harassed one morning when she was cycling alone.
A bunch of dudes banged their car into Aneeqa who is also a member of the Critical Mass Lahore, a cycling group. This happened not in one of the derelict areas of the city, but in DHA, supposedly the ‘civilized’ people’s neighborhood.
After Aneeqa made a post on Facebook about the incident, a colossal number of girls, all over Pakistan, showed immense support for her. The team behind a rights group, Girls at Dhabbas decided to hold an event in Karachi to support Aneeqa. That is when the incredibly brave Noor Rahman from Lahore decided that she too had to push for an event in Lahore. Noor got in touch with the team at Girls at Dhabbas and eventually came up with the idea of “Girls on Bikes”.
Alongside Noor, there is another name that has worked hard relentlessly to keep the Girls on Bikes going – Orubah Sattar.
“I have been in love with cycling ever since I was a young girl. I always wanted to explore the city on my bike but never had the confidence or the permission. Last year in winter I pushed my parents to get my bike repaired and then I convinced them to let me join Lahore Critical Mass. They were reluctant and had many issues but I persevered and practiced alone in my locale until I could muster up enough stamina to go for those 20+ km rides,” revealed Noor, while talking to Mangobaaz.
“After the horrific event with Aneeqa, we decided to hold a rally in march at main market and that event was highly successful.”
Noor says, “we crowd-sourced bikes and people came forward to lend their bikes to girls. Many Critical Mass Lahore members helped us decide the route and addressed our safety concerns. Since the response was incredible, we decided to make this a regular activity so we made a Facebook group and created a safe community where women can meet and plan rides as well as coordinate with each other”.
As far as problems for Girls going around the city go, the main problem for them is attendance.
At this point, the cheerily vigorous Orubah chimed in, “The movement itself is through Facebook or word of mouth. It, consequently, attracts a very limited segment of the society; mostly the educated women from a liberal or semi-liberal households in Lahore. We are gradually thinking of working on changing that as well. I also think that this could be a platform where we could hopefully teach other women who want to cycle but never learned to. It’s going on a lot slowly than anticipated but we are thinking of expanding it into a platform where we have a volunteers system of women who want to teach cycling and match them up with those who want to learn. For me my whole life, I’ve had such a big issue with women in Pakistan not being able to move around the city on their own. It’s considered so wrong for a woman to independently go somewhere on foot, rickshaw, cycle, motorcycle or even on a car. Even when I started, I was initially hesitant to ride anywhere outside mainly because it was something that no one else around me was doing at the time.”
“I know cycling is a not going to revolutionize women’s mobility but it can make us feel stronger and independent and be a reminder that we have as much right to these roads and cities as men do”, Orubah says.
According to Noor, the reason behind the low attendance is the inherent laziness of people.
While most of us talk about women empowerment, we rarely make an effort to get out and actually do something practical.
“There is also an issue of new female riders not being able to work up stamina because they often don’t get to practice. Coming alone from home to the starting points also scares some girls. There is difficulty in procuring good bikes and bike racks in Lahore as compared to Karachi for example. The available options aren’t as great and to get a good bike, there are further logistical hurdles to overcome. There is also no rental service in Lahore at the moment so a large investment needs to be made to start cycling. And lastly, girls don’t get permission from their families and parents as the whole concept is alien for people who haven’t been a part of the cycling community. I personally had to work hard to ensure my family that Critical Mass is a very healthy and safe space.”
However, despite everything, there are a few people who have showed utmost commitment to the initiative.
“Like Sehrish, one of our participants is one person who got her own new bike, does hijab and persuaded her parents that she is going to do this no matter what. She has actually rode to her office on her bike, at one occasion. Zainab had little stamina in her first ride with us but she rode in her colony till she got better. Maryam rode with us and has come a LONG way and keeps in touch even though she is in Karachi. Samiya has 2 kids and loves to bike with us whenever she gets the time. Fatima is another regular rider with us and used to ride alone before we became a group,” told Orubah.
Here is hoping that we get to see more people actually coming out of their houses to reclaim the city that is Lahore. Because everyone has a right to their city.
Cover Image Via: Noor Rahman