The Pink Riders of Pakistan
The Pink Riders is a growing initiative to encourage and teach women how to ride motorcycles in Karachi, Pakistan. The idea is to give women the opportunity to have some autonomy in their daily commutes to promote economic independence. A majority of women rely on third party ride share services, such as Uber or Careem, or their male relatives to commute around the city. A female rider is often never the case. In fact, when a woman is on a motorcycle, she is almost always sitting 'side saddle' on the back of a male relative. The stigma surrounding female riders is in part due to a deep-rooted patriarchal culture partly influenced by European tradition. The tendency of sitting aside results from a misunderstanding of the concepts of virginity and modesty. The Pink Riders are actively working to dismantle these misconceptions.
Riding aside on a horse can be traced back to 14th-century Great Britain when it was thought it could preserve a woman’s virginity by keeping the hymen intact. This misconstrued idea spread, and riding astride became a taboo. Since then, the fear of the hymen tearing and the social consequences paired with it permeated colonial circles. It was deemed indecent for women to ride horses, bicycles, motorcycles, or do any physical activity that risked this perceived virginity. As such, this practice spread to South Asia with the expansion of the British Empire. In fact, Mughal portraits from before colonization show women riding horses astride, hunting, and even playing polo. Today, in Pakistan, women ride aside on the back of motorcycles, often with their children inhand.
The Pink Riders are taking a progressive step to overcome restrictive and misinformed social structures. Founded by Payyam -e- Khurram, he and the Pink Riders meet every Sunday on a long stretch of open road to practice riding motorcycles. Fitted with helmets, elbow and knee pads, women from all over Karachi come to ride. They begin with simple balance skills on a bicycle and gradually progress on to learning the clutch and gears of a motorcycle to learning to ride in traffic. Since they were founded a year ago, the Pink Riders have successfully taught around 750 women how to ride.
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Johnson, Ben. “Riding Side-Saddle.” Historic UK, www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Riding-SideSaddle/.
“Motorcycle Diaries: The 'Women on Wheels' Initiative.” Herald Magazine, 2 July 2018, herald.dawn.com/news/1398575.