Making a Difference
Pedalling to Empowerment
Women pedalling on the busy streets of Dhaka.
On Friday, February 25, a group of thirty passionate women from diverse walks of life got on their bicycles and rode through Dhaka to promote bicycles as an alternative means of mobility for women in Bangladesh.
Motivated by the Sanskrit word 'aarohana' meaning ascendance, Arohi is Bangladesh's first women's cycling initiative aimed to gather a critical mass of individuals who are interested to promote cycling for women in Bangladesh to ride to work, school or for recreation, with an aim to break the stigma attached to a girl on a cycle, with the vision to establish freedom of mobility for women in Bangladesh.
Bangladeshi women face significant barriers from family, neighbours and society in getting on a bike and riding around town in bright daylight. Freedom of mobility is seriously curtailed in Dhaka if women don't feel safe to travel independently in their own city. Over 35% of female commuters in Dhaka depend on a cycle rickshaw and as more major roads ban these rickshaws, daily mobility for women is threatened furthermore. Arohi's tagline “Pedalling the way to empowerment” summarises the links that we plan to draw between cycles, mobility and empowerment.
As the first step, Arohi focused on sensitising Dhaka to female cyclers through a 5 km bicycle rally from Dhanmondi to Dhaka University Shaheed Minar this past February. The ride created quite a stir in the community. A wave of women on bicycles is a formidable force to be reckoned with and the bicyclers noted that riding in a group helped them block out the stares, curious onlookers and bedazzled drivers. The ride also brought to light that Dhaka streets are still a far cry from being 'bicycle friendly'. The lack of biking lanes, uninterrupted footpaths and racks makes it difficult to cover the shortest from point A to point B on a cycle. However, walking and driving on Dhaka's treacherous roads has become second nature to most pedestrians and drivers. In the same way, cyclists have developed their own tips and tricks for getting around the town safely and swiftly.
Arohi plans to follow, in the coming months, with awareness and advocacy events. First create the path and then motivate others to follow! The organisation's long term objectives include creating broader social impact by increasing uptake of cycling on target communities of highly mobile women such as students, garments workers, NGO field workers, and many more by developing a model that will encourage urban cycling and provide rental bicycles to these communities.
University students are the key to leading the 'bicycle revolution' in Bangladesh. The ever-increasing fares and dwindling numbers of public vehicles mean that getting to class on time adds to one of the many stress factors for the thousands of university students commuting to class every day. Bicycling short distances is an easy solution to barriers to mobility and a solution that women can champion. Among Arohi's next steps is establishing university chapters to help female students access bicycles and learn to safely cycle to class every day, in the hope that the trend will catch on. Arohi welcomes volunteers for campus outreach, liase with local and international media, fundraise, etc. (www.facebook.com /arohicycling)
Social taboo, family displeasure or a lack of self-confidence, are common reasons why women fear cycling. But a far worse deterrent is the simple fact that many women have not been on a bicycle since childhood and are not 'bicycle-ready', so to speak. To commemorate international Women's Day and address this concern, Arohi hosted a bicycle training workshop on March 12 for adult women interested in learning how to manoeuvre on two wheels in Dhaka. They say, learning how to ride a bike is something you never forget. Arohi believes that the power of women in bicycles will leave an unforgettable print on Dhaka's streets and hopes that young and old, men and women alike are geared to get ready, set and ride! We hope members of this organisation define themselves as an 'Arohi' and embrace the namesake to rise towards empowerment.