WoW! Women on Wheels reclaim the roads for gender equality

Date: Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Author: Henriette Bjoerge

Lahore, Pakistan – To spot women on motorbikes is a rare occurrence in Pakistan, where men traditionally dominate the roads. This changed on January 10th when more than 80 young women gathered for a historical female motorbike rally on Kashmir Road in Lahore.

Photo: UN Women/Henriette Bjoerge

What started as an initiative by the Special Monitoring Unit for Law and Order (SMU) of the Chief Minister’s office in Punjab, turned into ‘WoW- Women on Wheels’, a motorbike training program run by the Lahore Traffic Police, aimed at increasing women’s mobility, and combatting street harassment and other forms of violence in public spaces for women and girls. The initiative is supported by the Women Development Department of the Punjab Province and UN Women Pakistan.

Participants pose wearing orange hoodies designed, produced and donated by Pakistani artist and designer Mr. Yousuf Bashir Qureshi. Photo: UN Women/Henriette Bjoerge

“No city in the world can claim to be smart and sustainable if half of its population is not safe and lives in fear of violence. We are pleased to see that the City of Lahore clearly recognizes this reality and we look forward to continuing our strong collaboration with our provincial and municipal partners in Punjab to intensify efforts in meeting the new globally agreed gender equality goals (SDG5)” said UN Women Country Representative Mr. Jamshed M. Kazi.

“We want to claim our right to ride motorbikes just like the men” said Ms. Rubina Atta, a 23 year old Master degree student in special education at the Punjab University. “I want to be able to go to university by motorbike as it will save me a lot of time, and give me full independence”. Having attended training three times a week for the past month together with a few friends, she now feels confident enough to enter the traffic on her own. “My husband is slightly nervous as he is worried about me getting injured, but he fully supports me and is proud of my participation here today”.

Photo: UN Women/Henriette Bjoerge

“I am also a woman on wheels, and I also had to re-claim my right to public space” said UN Women National Ambassador Ms. Muniba Mazari after sharing the story of how she ended up in a wheelchair due to a car accident. Mazari encouraged participants to be strong and become an inspiration to all girls and women in Pakistan.

Danish Charge d’Affaires Ms. Helle Nielsen, American Consul General in Lahore Mr. Zachary Harkenrider, Provincial Minister for Population Welfare Ms. Zakia Shahnawaz, and Member of the National Assembly Ms. Maiza Hameed also gave their remarks and praised the women for their courage.

Before hitting the road for the rally, participants attended a seminar held at Alhamra Hall where they received certificates for having completed the training under the guidance of the Lahore Traffic Police. Mr. Salman Sufi, Senior Member of the SMU Law and Order, gave them words of encouragement while the Capital City Police officer Captain Muhammad Ameen Wains promised women that the Lahore Traffic Police will work to help and assist them if they face any problem of harassment or unsafety. Captain Wains announced also that soon a mobile phone application will be launched, allowing women in distress to get help from the nearest police warden.

Sadaf Imran, a 28-year old mother of four was encouraged by her husband Imran Amjum to join the WoW initiative. “My husband works in the Rescue 1122 service here in Lahore so his working hours are sometimes unpredictable. Therefore it makes our lives much easier when I can drop off and pick up our children from school by motorbike”. Mr. Imran nodded his head and recalled: “recently my wife even saved my father’s life when he faced an emergency situation while I was at work. She put him on the back of the motorbike, strapped his hands around her waist and drove him to the hospital just in time. I was so grateful and proud of her!” The couple brought their two-year old son, Hassan, to the WoW event so he could join the rally on his mother’s motorbike. “I am a tailor by profession, and now that I have received proper training, I will start delivering the clothes by motorbike to customers around Lahore. I want to be a role model for other women, and that is why I have put this eagle pin on my sweater today where it says ‘Pioneer’. I am serious about this”.

Austrian Ambassador Dr. Brigitta Blaha and Ms. Asma Jahangir, eminent lawyer and founding member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, both joined the rally at the back of the women’s motorbikes. Ms. Juvena Huang, a motorbike enthusiast from Singapore who is currently travelling the world solo on her Vespa scooter, also participated in the WoW rally. She has been on the road for the past 8 months and has travelled through Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal, India, and coincidentally happened to be in Pakistan at the time of the rally, on her way towards Europe. She was invited by UN Women to join the event and found it very inspiring. “During my 2 months travelling around Pakistan I have only met one Pakistani girl on a motorbike, so this is great!” she said with a big smile.

Photo: UN Women/Henriette Bjoerge

Dr. Saima Chaudry, a 34-year old Doctor, joined the rally and brought her mother with her. “My mother is my strongest supporter to become a motorbike rider. She thinks that all women should learn how to ride a motorbike, and has promised me that she will support me financially to buy a scooter”. Her father and brothers are skeptical and think that motorbikes are for men, but she decided to learn how to drive, safely and with confidence. “I was tired of wasting time at bus stops so I have started driving to my clinic on a motorbike. It will take some time, but my brothers will get used to it eventually”. Having made many new friends during the training, Saima now plans to form a riding group together with other women in order to encourage each other to stay strong and tackle the male-dominated traffic scene of Lahore. “We want to inspire other women when they see us drive, and we aim for a WoW effect!” she concluded enthusiastically.

Before the rally, the Minister for Women Development Hameeda Waheeduddin announced that the government will distribute 1000 scooters to working women and students at a 50 per cent subsidized rate under the WoW project during the upcoming International Women’s Day.

The WoW initiative is expected to be replicated in other cities across Punjab and gradually to the rest of Pakistan. 

For more information please contact:

Henriette Bjoerge
UN Women Pakistan

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Pakistan - WoW! Women on Wheels driving towards a #Planet5050
View more photos on UN Wome Flickr. Photo: UN Women/Henriette Bjoerge