NationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 15

Transforming mobility through two-wheelers

Women in Pakistan are embracing two-wheelers as a convenient and affordable means of transportation, enabling them to navigate their daily routines with ease. With stories like that of Aleena Farooq, a second-year student at Punjab University, who confidently rides her scooty from her home in Gulshan-e-Ravi to her college, it is evident that these vehicles are reshaping the mobility landscape for women.

Aleena Farooq, a second-year student at Punjab University, asserts that she has never encountered any harassment from bikers or drivers during her six-year experience of riding her scooty. As a regular commuter from her home in Gulshan-e-Ravi, Lahore, to Punjab University Quaid-e-Azam Campus (New Campus), she rides her scooty, a smaller version of scooters specifically designed for female riders, almost daily. Along the way, she drops off her younger sister at a private college on Wahdat Road.

“Sometimes young bikers challenge me to a race, but I choose not to respond and simply smile at them. Although they can’t see my smile as I always wear a helmet,” she shares with a broad smile on her face.

Around six years ago, Aleena’s father, Muhammad Farooq, decided to purchase a scooty for his daughter when she was in ninth grade. At that time, Aleena and her younger sister attended a private school on Wahdat Road, and transportation had become a challenging issue for the family. Muhammad Farooq, the sole male member of the family, had a packed schedule, working full-time and part-time jobs, leaving the household at 8:30 am and returning around 10 pm. Hiring an auto-rickshaw on a monthly basis was prohibitively expensive and came with its own set of issues. Even when hiring for an entire month, the driver would often call at least once a week, reporting faults or a flat tire, thereby canceling the service for that day.

Fed up with the unprofessionalism of rickshaw drivers and lacking the time to provide transportation for his daughters, Muhammad Farooq had been searching for a reliable alternative. One morning, he spotted a girl riding a scooty on Jail Road, and it sparked an idea. In the evening, the family discussed buying a scooty for the girls. Aleena was overjoyed with the idea, while her younger sister was thrilled. However, their mother expressed concern and opposed the plan. Despite her resistance, Muhammad Farooq had already made up his mind. He knew his elder daughter well and had complete confidence in her abilities, considering her good health.

Since that day, Aleena has been independently commuting to her school, college, and university while also providing transportation for her younger sister. The hassle of going to the market without their father’s assistance has also been resolved.

According to Aleena, she rarely experiences people staring at her, as it has become a common sight in Lahore. People have accepted the presence of girls and women riding scooties and, at times, even motorcycles, acknowledging it as a sign of changing times. Consequently, they not only refrain from causing trouble for female bikers but also extend their assistance when needed. “On at least three occasions in the past few years, male passersby have come to my aid when my scooty had a flat tire. They offered help in taking it to a repair shop while I dragged it along,” she recalls. “Times have changed significantly. I encourage you to try it yourself or have your female family members ride scooties on Lahore roads and enjoy the experience. There’s nothing to worry about,” Aleena enthusiastically conveys to the interviewer.

Aleena Farooq’s positive experience is not unique. Motorcycles and scooties have become increasingly popular among women due to their affordability and convenience for daily tasks. Working women and students can be seen riding these two-wheelers in cities and towns across the country. Although unheard of fifteen years ago, women on bikes are rapidly becoming a norm.

Zubaida Bilal, who rides her 70cc scooter to work at a bank branch in Rawalpindi, emphasizes that her choice of transportation has nothing to do with feminism or women empowerment. She considers herself a simple working woman who relies on her two-wheeler to commute, freeing herself from the hassle of waiting for buses in the rain or sweltering heat.

The trend of women riding two-wheelers is gaining momentum as it offers the most convenient and cost-effective means of transportation. A motorbike dealer in the Lahore Hotel area, where numerous motorbike shops are located, confirms that the rising cost of living and inflation have compelled more women to join the workforce. Consequently, they seek affordable and accessible modes of transportation. The dealer further explains that scooties have been specifically designed for females, being lighter than regular 70cc motorbikes.

In recent years, the Punjab government introduced the ‘Women on Wheels’ initiative, although its popularity is yet to reach the levels seen in Indonesia and Malaysia—Muslim countries in Southeast Asia—where it is common to witness women wearing hijabs riding scooties and bikes to colleges and universities.

However, in Pakistan, the presence of scooters is here to stay. Another student, Huma Ameer, initially hesitated to ride her two-wheeler, but now she thoroughly enjoys it due to its convenience and affordability. She shares her experience, stating that whenever her mother needs to visit the bank or go shopping, they simply hop on the scooty and swiftly navigate through traffic, saving considerable time compared to crowded vans during rush hours.

In conclusion, the increasing popularity of two-wheelers among women in Pakistan reflects their need for convenient and economical mobility options. Scooties and motorcycles have become a practical solution for working women and students alike, providing them with independence and efficient transportation in their daily lives. As society embraces this changing trend, it not only alleviates transportation challenges but also fosters a sense of empowerment among women as they navigate the city streets with confidence and ease.

The increasing popularity of two-wheelers among women in Pakistan signifies a shift towards convenient and economical mobility options. Scooters and motorcycles have become reliable companions for working women and students, offering them independence, efficiency, and the ability to tackle their daily tasks. As society embraces this changing trend, it not only addresses transportation challenges but also empowers women to navigate the city streets with confidence and freedom. The sight of women on two-wheelers has become a symbol of progress and resilience, marking a new chapter in Pakistan’s evolving cultural landscape.

(The writer is a physician by profession. She has worked as an intern at the Capital Health (New Jersey) & the Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital (New York). Rights and gender issues are the areas of special interest to her. She can be reached at: [email protected])

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