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January 25, 2020

It’s time to celebrate as 500 women complete training in motorbike driving

January 25, 2020

Regressive norms of society are being challenged at large in Karachi as many women are learning how to drive motorcycles so that they can commute independently. One such woman is Madiha Arjumand, 34, mother of two daughters and resident of Landhi Industrial Area, who was encouraged by her husband to register for the Women on Wheels (WOW) programme.

The programme has been functioning under the Salman Sufi Foundation in collaboration with the Sindh government. It is also supported by the United Nations Women and the United Nations Development Programme.

The campaign is aimed at training 10,000 women throughout the province in driving motorcycles. For this purpose, training was officially commenced in the first week of December last year on a vacant ground at the University of Karachi (KU) near the varsity’s business school.

The day Arjumand’s husband saw the advertisement of WOW, he asked her to join the programme. She believes that it will help her do her daughters a service. “I will make them [her daughters] learn drive a motorbike. Anywhere they want to go, be it school, college or any other place, and if I am not available, they must not be dependent on anyone,” she said. Not only her husband, but also her in-laws are supportive of the cause.

During a ceremony at the Arts Council of Pakistan on Friday evening, as many as 40 women who received training under the programme were awarded certificates for learning driving motorcycles and four of them given permanent motorcycle driving licences. Whereas, a total of 500 women have been trained so far in Karachi under this programme. One of the female participants, Rizwana Shireen, student of BCom, won a free motorcycle in a lucky draw.

Like Arjumand, many other women who received the training had inspiring stories to tell. A middle-aged assistant professor serving at the KU special education department, Dr Shaista Naz, learned to drive a motorcycle along with her daughters. Talking to The News at the ceremony, she said she had a desire to drive a motorcycle since childhood but could not pursue her passion due to the prevailing patriarchal mindset.

“Our society doesn’t encourage women driving motorbikes at all. Mothers especially are always concerned that their children can meet an accident while driving a motorbike,” she said. Against all odds, when she saw the training taking place at the varsity, she could not resist it and got herself enrolled. To her surprise, she was also supported by her husband.

Dr Naz, gradually became an inspiration in the KU to her female as well as male students and other faculty members, who collectively supported her. “We will work together with men in our society,” she said with a big smile on her face.

Shireen, also had a dream of driving a motorcycle. Her happiness was palpable on her face as she had won a free motorcycle in the lucky draw. She shared that initially her father was not much supportive of the idea of her driving a motorcycle but it was her mother who supported her and she got herself registered with the programme. “Not even once I stumbled and fell from the motorbike while learning,” she shared proudly.

The programme, according to Sufi, will soon be expanded to three other locations of the city – Malir, Korangi and Gulistan-e-Jauhar – by the mid of February. He also pledged to help women of Hyderabad, Sukkur and Larkana learn how to drive a motorcycle with the help of the Sindh government.

Asad Khan, the representative of Careem, a ride-hailing service, announced on the occasion that they would soon offer female drivers exclusively for female passengers.

With the help of JS Bank, he said, the women will be given motorcycles at a five per cent markup rate. The bank will have its camp at all the training sites of WoW.

Sindh Women Development Minister Shehla Raza shared that they were running Asia’s biggest microfinance loan programme from which some 1.4 million women had benefitted. With the help of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), she said they were training home-based workers and as many as 7,000 families had benefitted from the training.

Shehla said he was herself keen to learn driving a motorcycle. She also announced that the government had decided to allocate some amount in the upcoming budget to help women buy motorcycles.

The women development minister asked all those girls who had learned to drive a motorcycle, to learn self-defence also. “Sindh has the best legislation for safeguarding women,” she said and explained how they had enacted laws against domestic violence and child marriage. Pakistan Peoples Party leader Faryal Talpur said the late Benazir Bhutto was a pioneer in women empowerment. She appreciated the WOW programme and called driving a motorcycle an “independent thought”. In rural areas in India, she said, wives brought lunch on motorcycles for their husbands working in the fields.

She added that the Sindh government had trained over 50 women in Thar to drive trucks under the Thar Coal programme.