Cycles of Change: Pedaling to Empowerment in Dhaka

“I think the bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” – Susan B Anthony

While we all know that bicycling is a critical alternative mode of transportation, those living in cities of bike lanes and traffic laws often forget just how challenging riding bicycles can be, and just how empowering and emancipating it can be. The following is crossposted from the India Climate Solutions blog, written by Rudmila Rahman of Arohi Cycling

On Friday, February 25, a group of 30 passionate women from diverse walks of life got on their bicycles and rode through Dhaka to promote bicycles as an alternative means of mobility for women in Bangladesh. We cycled more than 5 kilometers together, through the streets of Dhaka, in the rally organized by Arohi – Bangladesh’s first women’s cycling initiative aimed to gather a critical mass of individuals who are interested to promote cycling for women in Bangladesh in order to ride a bicycle to work, school or for recreation, with an aim to break the stigma attached to a girl on a cycle.

They believe this, in turn, will promote freedom of mobility in Dhaka for women, as well as a cleaner environment. Bangladeshi women face significant barriers from family, neighbors and society in getting on a bike a riding around town in bright daylight. Freedom of mobility is seriously curtailed in Dhaka if women don’t feel safe to travel independently in their own city. Over 35% of female commuters in Dhaka depend on a cycle rickshaw and as more major roads ban these rickshaws, daily mobility for women is threatened furthermore. Arohi’s tagline: “Pedaling the way to empowerment” summarizes the links that we plan to draw between cycles, mobility and empowerment.

Arohi will follow in the coming months with awareness and advocacy events with the community and local government. The organization’s long term objectives include creating broader social impact by increasing uptake of cycling on target communities of highly mobile women such as students, garments workers, NGO field workers, etc through developing a model that will encourage urban cycling and provide rental bicycles to these communities. First create the path and then motivate others to follow!

Beyond the objective of empowerment, bicycling is a clean and green way to travel in a city which has one of the highest levels of air pollution in the world.  The density of airborne particulate matter can reach 463 micrograms per cubic meter- the highest level in the world. Pollution from vehicles is the main cause of smoke, smog and dust. Therefore, Arohi plans to combine the perception of cycling as an alternative to mobility through cars and public transport and work with the Dhaka City Corporation to promote cycle friendly interventions in the city for both men and women.

The response to a cycling initiative in Dhaka has been tremendous. But a major hurdle is the fact that the last time many women got on a bike was when they were 10 years old, for reasons such as social taboo, family displeasure or a lack of self-confidence. To commemorate international Women’s Day, Arohi will to host a bicycle training workshop to help interested women learn how to maneuver on two wheels in Dhaka and take the first step toward the path of empowerment.

Mission: We are a organization of passionate individuals who strive to empower women of all ages and backgrounds to demand freedom of mobility as a fundamental human right and promote bicycling as an alternative means of mobility for women in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Our objective is to break the stigma associated with a girl on a bicycle and ensure each and every woman in Bangladesh can cycle from point A to point B without fear for personal safety, fear of public harassment and fear of breaking social and cultural taboos. We believe riding a bicycle sends out a strong message against barriers to female mobility within a conservative society, promotes environmentally friendly lifestyle and creates a route towards opportunities for social and economic development. We will inspire collective action locally and globally in order to transform mobility in Bangladesh.

Meaning of name: Arohi (pron: aa-row-hee)  is the Bengali word for ‘rider’ as is apt for a cycling organization originating in Dhaka, Bangladesh. However the motivation came from the word’s sanskrit root ‘aarohana’ which means ascendance, with forms of the word used to describes things ranging from describe spiritual ascendancy to rising octaves in South Asian classical music or to describe the victorious in epic battles. We hope that each member of this organization defines themselves as an ‘Arohi’ and embraces the namesake to rise towards empowerment.

You can contact Rudmila Rahman at arohicycling @ gmail . com

3 Responses to “Cycles of Change: Pedaling to Empowerment in Dhaka”

  1. 1 Elaine Baker-Guni Apr 27th, 2011 at 3:09 am

    Great to see other grassroots groups in developing countries working on the issue of urban cycling.

  1. 1 Cycles of Change: Pedaling to Empowerment in Dhaka « It’s Getting Hot In Here « Club Global Trackback on Apr 26th, 2011 at 3:19 am
  2. 2 Cycles of Change: Pedaling to Empowerment in Dhaka | World Streets Trackback on Apr 26th, 2011 at 3:33 am
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About Caroline

Caroline Howe explores how to get more people excited about sustainability, through education, new technology, financial tools, and community engagement. She's particularly passionate about engaging young people in developing community based solutions to environmental challenges. This has taken her to five continents, working with her start-up, Loop Solutions, as well as with NGOs, youth groups, companies, UN agencies, and a ton of fantastic youth leaders.

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