April 22, 2023
By Ahmed Saeed & Asra Haque
Alia* who is in her thirties easily outpaces her fellow students. She is at the Women on Wheels (WoW) training center established at the Rescue 1122 headquarters on Lahore’s Ferozepur Road. But an expert as she is, she did not have the easiest beginning of this journey.
Alia admits that early in her lessons, she had often fallen off her bike several times. But WoW trainers and Lahore Traffic Police wardens Humaira and Umer never gave up on her, offering her encouragement and even giving her extra lessons. Now, she runs circles around the other students, and is set to graduate in another day or two.
“It was very scary in the beginning. I kept falling down, I kept losing my confidence. I felt like dropping out all the time,” she tells Voicepk.net.
For Alia, riding a motorcycle is no hobby. Rather, it is her only means to a better life.
Four years ago, her husband was murdered in a family dispute. With no other male relative she could rely on, Alia is solely responsible for her family’s upbringing and survival. After learning of WoW from a friend, Alia brought her deceased husband’s bike to the training center and insisted on learning to ride with it.
“I kept going for my daughter,” she says. “She pushed me to never give up.”
Women on Wheels is the brainchild of Salman Sufi, a public policy expert and currently the Head of the Prime Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit (SRU), and was launched by the Lahore Traffic Police in 2016. It has since trained over 7,000 women and girls to safely and responsibly ride motorcycles on Lahore’s traffic-heavy roads.
The programme consists of a 15-day course plan, with male and female Traffic Police wardens instructors. The motorcycles as well as fuel used in the training have been provided by Honda Atlas Cars (Pakistan) Ltd., with enrolled students first learning to “crawl” to get used to the weight and balance of their bikes. They eventually move on to supervised runs on a simple course before they are ready for the traffic-heavy roads of the city.
The programme also educates trainees on traffic rules and regulations, road safety, and basic mechanical knowledge in case their rides break down. Upon completing the 15-day programme, trainers accompany their students to the Driving License Center at Lahore’s Liberty Market to help them register for a learner’s permit.
Women on Wheels caters to a growing number of working or college-going women and girls who are in need of better alternatives to public transport in this day and age.
Like Alia, Sana* too was tired of the rising costs of and consistent delays in public transport, but could not rely on her father and brother to flip around their schedules to accommodate her. She came to know of Women on Wheels from a colleague who had graduated from the programme last year and promptly enrolled. Sana has just started off but is confident she’ll be cruising to her medical college on her own motorcycle soon.
“It’s difficult to go to university, and to my job, and I waste a lot of precious time by using local transport. I have to be on time for my duty, that’s why I’ve started to learn how to ride a motorcycle,” she says. “All the girls around me come and go by themselves on motorcycles, and they have it so good. I want the same, too.”
Instructor Humaira believes that with more and more women in Pakistan entering the workforce in an era of growing economic uncertainty, the freedom to travel is a need rather than a luxury and motorcycles can fulfill that need.
“Life is a lot tougher these days and people simply cannot afford to be bound by the needs and demands of others. Women are running their households, they’re heading to work without any worries [by learning how to drive motorcycles],” she tells Voicepk.net.
Co-trainer Umer opines that with the correct training and a license, women tend to drive safely and adhere to traffic rules better than men.
“We teach the women and girls here the ABCs of riding a motorcycle. Once they complete their training and secure a license, they do not make any mistakes on the road,” he says. “Often parents just hand over motorcycles to their boys and they drive around as they wish without licenses. What can you say about them?”