Under the $40 million Gender Equity Program, Mission Director John Groarke of USAID gifted 200 bicycles to increase mobility of female students at the University of Agriculture Faisalabad. The gender equity program aims to improve women’s access to justice, expand economic opportunities for women, and advocate for their social and political empowerment. It also aims to support survivors of gender-based violence, and build the capacity of the government to prevent, respond to, and eliminate gender-based violence.

Providing access to safe and accessible transport to women remains a challenge in Pakistan. These bicycles, being distributed by USAID, are more symbolic if anything, of a time that is changing, where women are trying to reclaim public space and breaking taboos. A woman on a bicycle is a rare sight, even rarer in a place like the University of Faisalabad. The confidence that these women will gain from this experience is priceless, but more importantly it is slowly and steadily working to change the male mindset, that prevents women from using this mode of transportation outside the confines of the university.

A recent incident went viral on social media whereby a female cyclist was harassed and followed by a group of men in a car in an upscale neighbourhood in Lahore. The men hit the cyclist with their car before running away, leaving the female cyclist injured, on the side of the road. Incidents like these only show the disturbing mentality that is widely prevalent in Pakistan; that a woman’s place is within the confines of her four walls under the wagging finger of patriarchy. One can only hope that this $40 million will be put to good use. Although this initiative is a small step towards bringing change, it will take way more than distributing bicycles to break the centuries old customs and social norms.