The decrepit transport service and humidity in Karachi have for years been an unpleasant combination when it comes to waiting to get from one point to another. The ever-rising fuel prices often added to the misery.
The problem becomes twofold for women, most of whom have to get past catcalls and eve-teasing when using public transport in the metropolis.
But some women in Karachi have decided to not let such issues come in their way. They have opted to have their own motorbikes, a cheaper means of transport as compared to cars.
A dentist by profession, Maryam Ansar is one of the few who set the trend for women in Karachi by riding a two-wheeler.
Speaking to SAMAA Digital, Ansar says she has been working ever since she was a student and so almost every day she has a lot of commutes to do – from her house to university to her workplace.
Women compartments in Karachi buses never offer enough space to accommodate more than a dozen female commuters.
“It got unbearably tough when the pandemic caused the city to undergo a lockdown. Traveling became a challenge for me, which is why I decided to buy my own bike as it would allow me to save money and travel without having any handicap.”
So in 2020, Ansar bought herself a bike.
Although a metropolis, commuting alone in Karachi, and that too, on a motorbike is not very common for women.
But Ansar says, women ought to be brave enough to take up whatever is required to make things easy for them. And, according to her, riding a bike is not something that should be looked down upon.
The dentist says she was highly encouraged by her family when she made the decision, but also acknowledged the fact that navigating through Karachi’s road still stood as a challenge for many, even her.
She says most of the rickshaw drivers and men deliberately pass by women drivers at a high speed.
But at the same time, Ansar says, she has met many who were impressed seeing her ride a bike or learning about it.
“People are fascinated when they see a woman doing such a physically demanding activity. Everyone has something positive to say. Women wave to me and say ‘well done! you are brave’. There are people who can’t believe a woman can ride a motorbike but they’re generally thrilled and feel very proud.”
Ansar suggests that women who face difficulty in taking public transport should also opt for motorbikes.
She has even offered to help them learn how to ride a motorbike.
An institute in Karachi called ‘Rowdy Rider’ has been training women since 2017 to ride motorbikes.
Farkhunda, a manager at the institute, says the trend of women riding bikes has increased significantly in the last five years.
According to the manager, her organization aims to empower women so that they can reach their destinations without having to rely on a rickshaw, taxi, bus or a family member.
Rowdy Rider prioritizes widows and divorced women, she said.
The organization has so far trained more than 1,000 women in riding motorbikes, she adds
While speaking about her experience of being part of such an institute, Farkhunda says she feels comfortable sharing similar stories with other women.
“We always have so much to talk about.”
She says most of the women who come for training are from middle and lower-income groups.
Most of these women are the sole bread earners of their families or students who need a convenient mode of transport to commute between their universities and homes every day, she added.
Farkhunda said since not everyone could afford to buy a car, motorbikes are the cheapest solution for them.
Other than taxis, buses and traditional rickshaws, Karachi roads are also dominated by Qingqi rickshaws, which have very limited passenger space. Men and women are made to sit in proximity facing each other and there is a fear of harassment.
In such a situation, Farkhunda says, motorbikes are a safer option.