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Women on bikes are not an unusual sight in the other countries but in Pakistan female bicyclists are a rare sight.
Lack of skills, limited opportunities in the job market, and social, religious and cultural restrictions limit Pakistani women’s chances to compete for resources in the public arena. Traditionally, male members of the family are given better education and they have a productive role as breadwinners in the public arena, while female members are imparted domestic skills to be good mothers and wives.
That’s why some turned their faces away to avoid the sight of women rattling past on bikes. Others gaped. In Pakistan, riding a bike is seen as a vulgar and sexlike act because a woman must straddle a seat.
"They certainly can't be hanging out just for fun," Nida Kirmani, an associate professor at the Lahore University of Management Science said. Unlike men, women aren't welcome to sit at tea stalls, hang out
with their girlfriends at a park or ride a bike for fun. The book “Why Loiter?" advocates for women being in public spaces with no purpose," she said, "as a kind of feminist-political act."
National Public Radio reports that a cleric who runs a large Islamic seminary said that women riding bikes is a provocative act. “Is it necessary that they exhibit themselves among the men?” asked Mullah Muhammad Naeem. He said that such public riding leads “to moral corruption” and suggested that women ride behind high walls, unseen by men.
From the start, the Pakistani bicyclists have faced pushback. On their first ride, Zulekha Dawood, 26, the woman's biking group organizer says, the girls were accosted by male madrassa students. “They were kicking the girls,” she recalled, and she heard them shout, “Why don’t your brothers stop you? Cover yourself and go pray! Go home!”
The girls and women in Dawood’s group remain undaunted. Regardless of where a woman lives, she has a right to move freely, Dawood says. “This is empowerment. We feel good. We feel free. We can go anywhere.”
A nearby samosa seller named Saqlain Usman, 18, shook his head while girls were riding bicycles. His three sisters wouldn’t dream of undertaking such an offensive act. They stayed home, he said, where they belonged.
"They fear their daughters will copy the riders," said Dawood, who also works to organize activities for Lyari's Girls Cafe, a community center. "Their fears are real. When we began, we had very few girls — maybe seven or eight. Now we have an entire group — 30 girls."