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close this bookEnvironmental Limits to Motorisation (SKAT, 1993)
close this folder5. Transport needs and NMT in the Third World
View the document5.1. Transport policies in the Third World
View the document5.2. Constraints to NMT
View the document5.3. NMT in urban areas
View the document5.4. NMT in rural areas
View the document5.5. Women and bicycles - Overcoming cultural prejudices

5.5. Women and bicycles - Overcoming cultural prejudices

It seems strange that in some places, women ride bicycles and motorbikes, yet not in others. For example, there seems no obvious explanation why both men and women use the bicycle in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), even while wearing long traditional clothing, while women in Tamale (Ghana) do not use the bicycle at all.160 In fact, there are quite complex cultural answers to this phenomenon.

It was identified in a recent study in Uganda161 that, currently, very few women ride bicycles because:

1. culturally, it may not be accepted. In certain societies, women who ride bicycles are perceived "to behave like men". Husbands in particular may feel that the extra mobility, a woman would get from having a bicycle could make her "too liberated", and they would no longer know where their wives were or what they were doing;

2. bicycles are generally used for travel outside the village while women's transport needs are mainly in and around the village;

3. the existing load-carrying devices on bicycles make it difficult to transport water, firewood and crops over poor footpaths;

4. bicycles are generally considered a man's possession, and men are reluctant to lend them out to women. The men fear that the bicycle can break and result in expensive repairs if used for women's transport activities. Men are more likely to lend out their bicycles for the same activities for which they themselves use the bicycles;

5. women have limited access to money. Men are generally responsible for monetary decisions involving monetary outlays.

However, women are anxious to improve their situation and, in many cases, a bicycle would change their lives considerably. In Asia and Latin America, the situation is quite similar: in some places, there are a lot of cultural barriers against riding bicycles, while in other places, cycling is quite popular.

In rural Bangladesh, for instance, where women do not even walk out of their homes due to "purdah", it is almost unheard of for them to ride bicycles. A few NGOs introduced bicycles and motorbikes for their female extension workers; the ladies accepted in most cases with pleasure, even though it was quite "daring" for them, it relieved them from hours of walking in the hot sun or in muddy monsoon-weather.

It seems therefore quite possible to remove these cultural obstacles slowly. But there are also many practical barriers to overcome:

1. many bicycles are designed for men; they have a horizontal cross-bar which allows cycling only for women wearing trousers; ladies-bicycles are not available because the market demand for them is small.

2. many bicycles are too big; in Uganda, the average height of a woman is probably around 1.60 meters, in many countries even less; this height requires a smaller frame than usual;

3. it is particularly difficult to ride a bicycle in a long dress; in India, for instance, as traditionally in Europe, ladies bikes should be equipped with a net or grid around the back wheel in order to protect the sarees from entering the spokes;

4. for the specific women's tasks, such as water and firewood carrying, the bicycles should be equipped with some appropriate load devices and racks, for instance to install a 'jerry can" for water, etc.. For this purpose, some simple technical adaptations should be made to the common bicycle,

5. women do not always need bicycles but also other intermediate transport devices such as wheelbarrows, donkey carts, etc., and

6. finally, women should get access to credit for buying bicycles, as they are generally not able to pay for them in one instalment.
Overall, the statement "women do not use bicycles" should be made with great caution. It is often a male perception, and especially the perception of male politicians who do not suffer from carrying tremendous amounts of headloads. Yet, experiences in Ghana (see below) show that women do become enthusiastic about cycling, if ever they get access to it.