“The day I started riding my bike, I received backlash and criticism from all around me. 'If a girl starts riding a bike, should a boy start wearing makeup, too?' I was devastated to hear those words and to realize how our society (in Pakistan) deems it unacceptable for a woman to do something as basic as ride a bike. But I had to make a choice.
In Pakistan, the transportation system has always been one of the biggest hurdles for women travelling to school or work. The untimely local buses, expensive Uber and rickshaw fares and, most of all, dependency on male family members to accompany women on their commute add up to the barriers women face. I was facing the same issue. I lived 15 kilometers away from my work and could not afford Uber or a rickshaw every day so for a year I used local buses to commute.
The challenge that women face on local buses is not just the unpunctual arrival, but also the harassment with no one to raise their voice against the culprit. I remember one time being on the bus when a man behind me started touching my shoulder. It was confusing at first because I didn’t understand what was happening. He continued to do it until I stood up and called him out. Such incidents are common for women taking local buses in Pakistan. I started thinking of a way out. I thought, ‘Why can’t I ride a bike?’ And that is when I decided that this is what I have to do - get the message across that bikes are not just for men.
Each time I sat on that bike, free to go anywhere, I felt the most independent and unstoppable.
My bike riding experience motivated a lot of young girls in my town to do the same. I received invitations to share my story on local TV networks and at different events. I realized that for a person to become a better version of themselves and to bring change to their society, they need to make a choice - whether to live in fear or challenge the norms of this society. This is a choice that no one else can make for them, and with this one decision, they impact the fate of so many others." -- Fatima Brohi, Youth Advocate