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Bangladeshi women: Cycling their way to emancipation


Being a woman in Bangladesh can be quite challenging in not one, but several ways, one of them being transportation. If you are a resident of the urban regions and not the owner of a private mode of transport, getting a ride to your destination can be quite a cumbersome activity especially if it is an everyday affair. Regardless of your social status travelling can be quite difficult, be it on foot, by bus, by cycle rickshaws or CNGs.

The various inconveniences range from walking long distances, waiting for rickshaws and standing the entire way on the bus; and on top of all that, the everyday nuisance of being stared at and commented on can be quite a painful ordeal.
In an attempt to overcome this obstacle for the female population of the country Rudmila Rahman came up with the idea of using bicycles as an alternative.

Whether for recreational purposes or for mobility, in our country, a woman riding a bicycle is looked at with disapproval. “Being a Bangladeshi woman, I’ve faced significant barriers from family, neighbours and society in getting on a bike riding around town. Our freedom of mobility is seriously curtailed in Dhaka if women don’t feel safe to travel independently in their own city” says Rudmila. and goes on to say “In rural areas, only those women who are affiliated with an NGO or an organisation, wearing their emblem, are not seen with disapproval while riding bicycles, while girls have to travel miles on foot to get to school or take their exams”. The only women who are seen cycling around Dhaka are usually expatriates. She believes that owning and riding a bicycle sends out a strong message of independence within a conservative society as well as making transportation easy for both rural and urban women. To add to all that, cycling is an environmentally friendly alternative to cars, CNGs and buses in cities.
With the aim of starting an organisation that promotes the use of cycling as an alternate method of transportation for women and breaking the stigma attached to a girl on a cycle, Rudmila used social media tools to reach out to numerous women in Dhaka. On receiving appreciable response, the first cycling initiative for women in Dhaka ‘Arohi: Pedaling the path to empowerment’, a non-profit organisation, was founded.

With the vision of establishing freedom of mobility for women in Bangladesh, Rudmila came up with the idea of arranging a bicycle ride exclusively for women on the 25 February, 2011 among several other future efforts. The objective of this ride was to sensitise the population of Dhaka to female cyclers.
“When people will see a large number of women cycling together it will have a greater impact on their acceptance” says Rudmila.

On the morning of Friday, 25 February a group of around thirty women all wearing white t-shirts were seen waiting in front of Drik Gallery, the starting point of Arohi’s first bicycle ride. Enthusiasm for doing something for the betterment of the women in the society seemed pretty high.

“The barriers in this country in terms of mobility for women are quite a lot. This initiative is certainly a step forward to overcoming them” says Alayne Adams, an expatriate participating in the ride.
The ride was a 5 km long ride from Dhanmondi to Shahid Minar at Dhaka University and did grab the attention of passers-by. Dhaka University was chosen as a route in order to encourage female students and to get people used to them cycling in the campus.
The organisation will be arranging more awareness events in order to motivate the target segments of students, garments workers, NGO workers etc. Arohi’s long term goal is to develop a business model that will further encourage women to opt for cycling by providing bicycles on rent.

Arohi also plans to host a bicycle training workshop on the occasion of International Women’s Day on 8 March to help interested women in learning how to move through the streets of Dhaka on a cycle.
So if you want to join in the endeavour of empowering women, grab a bike and get on the streets of Dhaka. Happy riding!

By Karishma Ameen
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed

The article was first published in The Daily Star, Bangladesh, the original article published on 2011.03.09.

The article is uploaded by Majbritt Thomsen, administrator on ‘Views On Tourism’.

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Posted in Bangladesh, Cooperation and network, Customer opinions, Development, Events, Sustainability.


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