It is not uncommon to see women on motorcycles in Pakistan – but usually they are sat in the dangerous side-saddle position behind a male driver and, often, several other passengers.
A woman straddling a bike to drive it herself is another thing entirely, an image that is still taboo in many parts of the deeply conservative Muslim country, where gender discrimination is routine.
But as part of a wave of women’s empowerment movements, the government of Punjab province is running “Women on Wheels”, a campaign that has trained scores of women to ride motorbikes in the last two years while raising awareness of gender-based violence and street harassment.
The importance of the issue is underscored by recent studies showing that some 75% of Pakistani women do not participate in the labour market, mainly due to a lack of transport.
“The aim is to basically empower women for their mobility because economic independence and economic empowerment depends on mobility,” Salman Sufi, director-general of the Punjab strategic reforms unit, said.
“So we are giving 3,000 bikes, we have trained over 3,500 girls in all of Punjab and this is going to go on until we reach a target of around 10,000 plus.”
On May 13, the latest batch of dozens of new riders set out to challenge perceptions in Lahore.
“We’re becoming... independent,” rider Nageena Waseem said, adding that their new skills will allow them to do “everything which we want. Otherwise we were dependent on another person”.
Activist Nighat Dad said the women were “reclaiming these spaces”, adding that it was a “big big win for women today”.
“Today is a good day for us,” agreed another rider, Tallat Shaheen. “The purpose (is) to bring these girls together... (so) that they be independent and can feel confident and can go and work alongside men.”