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Monday, February 19, 2024

‘Aurat Bike Rally’: Will it empower women?

News Desk |

Women in large numbers participated in the bike rally organized for women under the banner ‘Aurat Bike Rally’ held in three major cities of Pakistan: Karachi, Islamabad, and Lahore. 

The rally took off from Siddique Center in Lahore, Tariq Road in Karachi and from Haunted Hills in Islamabad. Celebrity singer Meesha Shafi also joined the rally in Lahore.

The bike rally was initiated by the “Girls at Dhaba” in 2016 from Lahore encouraging women to reclaim their space at public areas in Pakistan. Pakistan has no shortage of roadside cafes, chai shops and vendors selling food, however, these roadside cafes are heavily occupied by men and hence this restricts women from moving about in those areas.

Since the patriarchal system deems it inappropriate for women to move freely in these roadside cafes and public spaces; cases of harassment are often reported. “The ‘bike rally’ is a public intervention. It changes our streets and it changes reality,” said director Anam Abbas, who filmed the Karachi leg of the ride this year.

“However short-term and symbolic it may be, at that moment there is a rupture in the constrictive male public space. It will embolden some riders to keep riding, and for the witnesses, it is the vision of possibility.”

Read more: Lahore Music Meet: Redefining Pakistan

“The rallies are primarily a symbolic gesture we do once a year to reach out to women who may have been inhibited in the past from cycling in public spaces,” says Meherbano Raja, an Islamabad-based member of both groups.

The female cyclists donned that were embedded with messages like ‘Aurat Raj Arha Hai’ and ‘Aurat ka Phaiyaa Chalnay Do’. “Ride your bike and put pressure on patriarchy”, “Our roads, our city” and placards asking to quit ogling.

A large number of people, including women, disapproved these expressions in their social media posts. The commentators asked what benefit this ‘bike rally’ will provide to women who are actually in need of empowerment.

Many commented ‘bike rally’ is a futile exercise of women empowerment as they believe women should seek more meaningful expressions of exercising their freedom and liberty. For them ‘bike rally’ does not address the pressing issues women are facing in the society.