Making girls independent by providing them bikes. It may sound simple, but turns out to be a powerful tool to empower girls and even reduce child marriage rates. As part of Her Choice’s strategy to improve access to education, Bedari -Her Choice’s local partner in Pakistan- has experimented with the strategy of providing bicycles to over 70 girls. The results have been impressive.
The bicycle plan is a seemingly simple programme, but requires a momentous change in mindset which is symbolic for the things Her Choice wants to achieve. The Pakistani bicycle project is a great success: people in the community have let go of their fear and bias towards girls moving around freely and see the value of this. These ‘small’ initiatives show that investing in girls, increasing their say over their own lives and mobility, in no way has to cause dishonor or shame to any community.
Moreover this project has reduced the child marriage rates, not only in the families who have directly benefited from these measures, but also amongst other families in the same community. This action reflects that they are ready to break the social barrier if they get an opportunity.
The girls attending school on bicycles are proving to be change agents in their families and communities. Because of the success of this initiative, more bicycles for girls are being made available as more and more requests for bikes for girls have been made by the community members.
Providing bicyles has not been as easy as it sounds. Many people are skeptical about girls traveling independently from their home to school. Although bicycles greatly reduce travel times, there is a fear that the roads will be unsafe, that girls will be harassed and that they will abuse their expanded mobility to bring shame to their families.
This means that girls riding on bikes to school needed to be normalized throughout the community. Schools needed to accept that girls arrive by bicycles and infrastructure (bicycle stands) has to be in place and other pupils had to be ok with their peers riding bikes.
Parents needed to be sure that the road to school is safe, which means that people follow traffic rules, roads are clean and people are not surprised to see a girl on a bike; but in particular it is important that boys don’t harass the girls.
Police have to make sure that the girls are safe and community and religious leaders also need to see the benefits of this scheme. Staff members of Bedari were told that when a religious leader gave his daughter a bicycle and let her ride to school, many families went on board and also wanted bicycles for their daughters.