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November 21, 2019

Project aimed at training 10,000 women in Sindh to ride motorcycles starting on Sunday


November 21, 2019

Parveen Baloch, 18, student of the Lyari University is excited about learning how to drive a motorcycle on Sunday, November 24. She has enrolled herself in the ‘Women on Wheels’ (WoW) programme aimed at providing women in Karachi an opportunity to learn driving a motorcycle.

She states that her daily commute from her home in Lyari to her varsity is no less than a torture. “Sometimes I take a Qingqi, sometimes a rickshaw,” she says, adding that once she booked an online bike-hailing service as she was getting late.

“On the one hand, the government doesn’t provide us with decent mode of transport and on the other hand, our society doesn’t feel it appropriate for a girl to drive a motorcycle,” she complains. “This is the time we break the so-called manacles of patriarchy and become independent.”

It won’t be only Baloch who will be learning how to drive a motorcycle as Salman Sufi Foundation, the organisation behind WoW, in collaboration with the Sindh government has pledged to train 10,000 girls throughout the province to drive a motorcycle.

The foundation is launching WoW in Karachi on the coming Sunday at the Frere Hall. The campaign, according to the foundation’s head, Salman Sufi, is aimed at empowering women in the city by training them to drive motorcycles, providing them access to an anti-harassment application and helping them challenge patriarchal norms through a widespread communication campaign.

He shared with The News that in the next phase of their campaign, they would train women of Hyderabad, Sukkur and Larkana. By enhancing women’s mobility, the project targets improving Pakistani women’s freedom and inclusion in society as well as increasing their economic participation and access to education. Sufi had in 2016 launched a similar project with the Punjab government’s Strategic Reforms Unit.

The WoW campaign in Punjab achieved training of 5,000 women in five districts of the province by its end. As many as 700 women were also provided subsidised motorcycles under the initiative.

On Sunday, the event will be inaugurated by Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and Pakistan Peoples Party’s Aseefa Bhutto Zardari at 12:30pm.

The event is also being supported by international organisations such as the United Nations Women as well as United Nations Development Programme. Karachi has been selected as the first city to expand the WoW programme in Sindh and the Sindh government has been extensively supporting it, said Sufi.

After the inauguration of the event on Sunday, the training will formally commence on a vacant ground at the University of Karachi near the varsity’s business school and will be expanded across the city in different areas.

“The ground has been provided by the vice chancellor [VC] of KU, Khalid Iraqi,” Sufi said, adding that the girls who have already registered have been asked what timings would suit them for the training. “Once the timings are confirmed by them, groups of girls will be conveyed about their days through e-mail,” he explained.

Those women who already knew how to paddle a bicycle will take five to six days to learn driving a motorcycle, Sufi said. “Those who can’t even ride a bicycle will be trained for at least 10 days.”

Meanwhile, the KU VC told The News that that the varsity had provided the ground near the Karachi University Business School to the foundation without any charges. “The ground was perfect according to the foundation’s requirement,” he said.

When asked about security measures for the programme, he said the Sindh government was involved in the project due to which there should not be any law and order issue. He, however, added that his security adviser Dr Moiz Khan is coordinating with the foundation regarding security matters.

Journalist Afia Salam and Sindh Government Spokesperson Barrister Murtaza Wahab are involved in the programme. Internationally famed Lyari Girls Café will also be participating in the training programme.

The café has remained in hot waters for encouraging girls of Lyari to play football, learn boxing and ride bicycles.

One of the founding members of the café, Sultan Mandhro, shared that around 35 women from the café from the age group of 18 to 40 years will be participating in the training programme.

The WoW expansion in Karachi will not only offer motorcycle trainings to women but will connect them with job opportunities across reputed organisations enabling them to be financially independent and able to contribute towards economic growth of the city.

Furthermore, women who cannot afford motorcycles will be connected with microfinance institutions and given soft loans so that they could purchase motorcycles.

Sufi wants to achieve the training of 10,000 women across Sindh before International Women’s Day is observed on March 8. “The ultimate aim of the campaign is to empower women to reclaim public spaces in the country as well as to inspire them to become agents of change in the country especially as a counter-narrative to existing soaring headlines pertaining to violence against women,” he said.