Women don’t ride bicycles in Pakistan; I only learned to ride one at the age of 30.


The fresh breeze caressed my hair as I pedaled my bicycle along the coastal walk.

Having relocated to the Pacific Northwest for work in 2021 from Pakistan, watching ladies cycling makes me feel content and happy.

But it’s a bittersweet joy for me to ride next to them. It’s difficult to envision a moment when women in my native nation will be allowed to partake in such a fundamental pleasure without facing harassment or catcalls.

I was exposed to several misogynist stereotypes while growing up in Pakistan, but they were so embedded in the society that I didn’t even recognize them until I was in my late 20s. Sadly, there is still stigma attached to women participating in hobbies that are dominated by men.

Women are greatly underrepresented in sports in Pakistan, as are the chances for physical activity. Only 25% of the 48.7% of Pakistani women who are employed in the nation are women, according to a survey by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.

Biking is one of the many things that are frowned upon.

In Pakistan, it is uncommon to see a lady riding a two-wheeler for transportation, exercise, or enjoyment.

Due to the cultural rarity of the behavior, female motorcycle riders never ride with their legs apart. Instead, they keep both of their legs on one side of the bike, which makes falling more likely.

My parents were liberal and well-educated while I was growing up, and they never supported the misogyny that afflicted our culture. However, they also never disputed it.

Even as a young child, I was subject to many restrictions, ranging from not talking about my monthly menstrual cycle with any male family members to rigidly not learning to swim or ride a bike.

I didn’t think twice about it at the moment. Neither did I see many women riding bicycles, nor did I ever have any role models to aspire to.

On International Women’s Day in 2018, I was 26 years old and faced the terrible truth of the society I was raised in. The first-ever Aurat March, a nonviolent gathering of women to combat patriarchal culture, was held in Karachi at that time.

I decided to participate in the march out of curiosity because it was the nation’s first-ever public assembly of women where they took to the streets to seek equal rights in society.

We gathered with banners and posters in support of our rights in Pakistan from all walks of life.

One banner in particular caught my eye among the sea of people: “Normalise women riding bikes,” it said.

I felt as though a lighting had been turned on, and questions began to flood my thoughts.

Fighting a long-standing stigma was not at all simple (Picture: Rahma Khan)

In Pakistan, why weren’t women allowed to ride? Why wasn’t I given riding lessons when I was younger? And what was it that was still preventing me from picking up this fundamental ability?

My world suddenly collapsed that day. I was left shaken and began to look for answers to questions I had never thought to ask before.

I started surfing the web for inspiration after becoming irate and perplexed. Zenith Irfan, who is believed to be Pakistan’s first woman to ride a motorcycle throughout the nation alone, was discovered by me while conducting research and was found on Instagram.

She inspired me to one day travel by bicycle after posting videos of herself riding alone through remote mountain ranges in the United States, and female altitude cyclist Samar Khan gained notoriety for accomplishing the incredible feat of cycling to the base camp of K2, the second-highest mountain in the world.

Despite all difficulties, I was motivated by these women to learn how to ride. How difficult could it be, I eagerly questioned. For my own satisfaction at the moment, I wanted to break the stereotype in order to stop adhering to a ridiculous cultural norm.

But overcoming an ingrained stigma was not at all simple.

I practiced in the early morning hours with a couple of buddies on a bicycle I got from my cousin; I didn’t draw much notice, but I did get some looks from onlookers. ​

On good days, I would get encouraging nods, thumbs up, and puzzled looks; on poor days, I would frequently get catcalled and occasionally even laughed at when I had trouble keeping my balance or fell flat on my face.

My family and friends were initially pretty shocked by my decision, but they continued to be really encouraging and supportive as I learned more.

I had to train consistently for approximately a week before I could eventually keep my balance and ride without effort. But I felt strong and in control the day I mastered riding without veering or falling.

I desired to encourage more women. (Image of Rahma Khan)

I continued the challenge by learning how to ride a motorcycle. I borrowed a bike from a guy buddy who showed me how to ride it. I was able to navigate traffic with ease and safety after a month. After training, I applied for a license, and when I got one, I rode it in public.

I frequently used my motorcycle for commuting and fun before to relocating to Canada last year. I also trained my sisters on my bike and encouraged them to start riding.

It was a terrifying yet exhilarating experience for me to learn how to ride, to practice, and then to ride on my own.

On the way, I attracted a lot of interested looks. There were occasions when I was harassed or pursued by guys riding recklessly all around me in an effort to scare me away.

But rather than deterring me, it merely gave me more motivation to keep going. I hoped to motivate more ladies.

The complete reverse occurs when women ride in Canada. Nobody looks at the female riders funny, calls them names, or bothers them here. They are dealt with similarly to any other driver or rider on the road.

After observing how commonplace it is for women to ride motorcycles or bicycles in Canada, I am more determined than ever to bring about this change when I return to Pakistan.

One pedal push at a time, I won’t stop trying to dispel these misogynistic gender stereotypes.

It is impossible to imagine a time when female motorcyclists will be accepted in Pakistan. I remain optimistic, though, that if more women have the guts to defy these cultural conventions, we can finally put an end to them.

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