People think we’re from another planet’: meet Karachi’s female cyclists

Aliya Memon Cycling may be one solution for women to acquire personal and economic liberty but it’ll be a long and bumpy road ahead — quite literally, awarded Karachi’s potholed streets. For many, cycling is just a recreational weekend action, not a means to sail. Karachi doesn’t have bicycle paths or bicycle parking, and the motor traffic is chaotic. The few cyclists on the roads are largely daily-wage earners employing basic bicycles.

While some people today ride bikes to complete rapid errands, the anxiety of being robbed deters a lot of cycling to utilize a laptop, for instance. While there is security in numbers, many cycling groups rely on service cars and mechanics. Women don’t ride alone on main roads. “When you are on a bike, you feel a certain sense of liberty,” says Sadaf Furqan, 42, on a Saturday morning after completing a 25km ride with a Cycologists group.

But biking unaccompanied, she says, is not an option. “I long for the day I can take my bike and head out on my own but I must bank on other people to ride. If I go on a long ride, then there have to be at least five men in the category.” Habiba Allahdad, 39, a resident of Lyari, was reluctant at first, thinking her weight could be a barrier. “Do not you wish to take a rest?” “No,” that they shout and continue chasing each other about.

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“They need to scare girls so that they do not head out to cycle, and neither do others,” states Allahdad. “Because if girls ride a bicycle then they are also able to ride a bike. I believe it’s also jealousy at seeing girls getting ahead.” Deciding there was safety in numbers, they trained indoors for seven months, studying from four women that already knew how to ride a bicycle.

If they had a big enough group, they ventured out on your way. As cycling gets more popular, many men and women are returning to bicycles for the first time since youth. For Aliya Memon, 30, who climbed to a bicycle last September after a 15-year gap, the memory of how to ride instantly came back. “I started cycling again since it’s a psychological outlet,” she says. You have a sense of achievement.”



Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to join the dialogue, catch up on our best stories or subscribe for our weekly newsletter That has not deterred the girls of Lyari, nor some of the women who have discovered biking provides a release from the pressures of life at Karachi. Early on Sunday morning in Karachi, a group of girls are riding loops across a vacant stretch of road away from the colonial-era Custom House. In 6am they left the narrow alleys of the old neighbourhood of Lyari, branded a war zone by federal and global media after a protracted and brutal gang battle. Two hours later they’re still happily pedalling away, in ballet slippers and also headscarves tucked under helmets.

It’s rare to see women cycling in Pakistan but scenes like this are increasingly being performed over Karachi on weekend mornings. Numerous cycling groups take over the vacant streets, like the Critical Mass movement. There are also sponsored and themed bicycle rides, such as ones to raise consciousness of polio, to mark the start of mango season and also to honour Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the country’s founder. “People think we’ve come from some other world,” Dawood says.

Zulekha Dawood, the planner at Lyari Girls Cafe, first started cycling on her neighbourhood’s uneven roads with another colleague. “It felt great, like we were liberated,” Dawood says, sitting in the front area of the cafe on a quiet weekday afternoon. The electricity has gone out, and a loud generator hums in the background.

“We faced some immunity [out of ] the pupils of the madrassa, some religious people… [but] if you cease a girl’s path in 1 way, many more ways will open up” “I used to cycle independently,” states Gullu Badar, 15. “It is nice to cycle here since there is no danger, no cars. It feels good that there are different girls cycling with me also.” In addition to safety risks, women must contend with social acceptance.

Ladies ride side-saddle on motorcycles and are frequently advised to stop cycling when they are teenagers. “We have been brainwashed [to think] that we can not take action,” states Rizvi. “For women my age there is no imagination to do anything.” The self of our guys is fragile. If someone is looking for something new that they Can’t tolerate it Since Karachi has developed from a fishing village to Pakistan’s initial capital and now its economical hub, traffic and commute times have grown.

Transportation options are dismal. On the town’s dilapidated buses, women squeeze into a cramped reserved section with just a few seats. Sexual harassment is rife onboard and at bus stops, and also the limited service forces passengers to walk long distances. For ladies, the only other options are to talk about a rickshaw or taxi — an often costly proposal — or rely on man relatives to induce them to school and work.

Conservatives in Pakistan have been riled by female cyclists. In Peshawar, religious-political parties objected to a cycling rally for women organised by Zamung Jwandun (Our Youth), a regional NGO. Wafa Wazir, the group’s 23-year-old founder, had been motivated by accounts of girls who wanted to push rickshaws or ride bikes. As opposition grew, however, Wazir was made to put the plan on hold, citing the security of participants. “Regardless of how advanced men and women become, if a person is trying something new they can’t endure it,” Memon adds. “The ego of our men is quite fragile.”