Riding forward into the future.

Motorcycles and freedom go together like peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese and tomato soup, or swearing and your 10mm socket, which was totally there a second ago but is now long gone. If you’re a woman who’s ridden public transportation in any big city—or you know women who have—rampant harassment is an unfortunately common theme. Wouldn’t it be great if more women could use motorcycles to escape harassment on public transportation? 

That’s the thinking behind the Women on Wheels initiative, which just launched its second program in Karachi, Pakistan. Originally launched in 2016 in Punjab, the program lost funding in 2018 when a new government came to power. Fortunately, it’s since been revived as of November 2019 in Karachi. 

The program provides interested women riders with motorcycles on which to train. Students learn motorcycle skills, and can then receive subsidized loans to purchase their own bikes. License fees are also waived for students who complete this program. As a lifelong Illinois resident, I have to say that apart from also providing subsidized loans for bike purchases, this sounds an awful lot like how MSF training works in my state—and it’s extremely encouraging.

It’s very similar to my local MSF program in another way, too. "In Sindh [province], we are specifically targeting universities as training centers to accommodate a larger number of applicants within a trusted premise to encourage applications," Women On Wheels head Salman Sufi told Al Jazeera

"Academic institutions also ensure the sustainability of the program." In Illinois, MSF classes are arranged through universities and community colleges around the state. All this math is making total sense so far. 

Before funding was cut, the original Women on Wheels program in Punjab started with training 40 women to ride—but resulted in 5,000 licensed women riders in the province by the time it wrapped. Additionally, over 700 women were able to purchase their own motorcycles in 2018 through loans established through this program, Dawn reported.  

Karachi is the first stop for the Women On Wheels program in Sindh province—but it plans to train women throughout the area. Even though he’s seen it work before, Sufi was still surprised by just how much interest the program has generated in Karachi. 

“Within hours of announcing the initiative we had received 6,000 applications. And more are pouring in,” Sufi told Dawn

The first Women On Wheels training program in Karachi started on November 25, 2019. More details of additional programs will be announced in January 2020, with locations in Hyderabad, Sukkur, and Larkana to start. If you or any women you know are in the area and want to sign up, you can do so here

Sources: YouTube, Al Jazeera, Dawn, News 18, The Express-Tribune