Tête-a-tête with Beenish Afreen: A rebel reclaiming her public space, one bike at a time

In a traditionalist patriarchal society where domination is believed to be a masculine realm, the general perception still is that women riding bikes and claiming public spaces or independence are against the orthodox status quo

The ill-norms, taboos and misogynistic expectations ballooned in society are holding women back from empowering themselves

Not many women dare to wipe out gender stereotypes and grasp freedom of soul owing to limitations

A number of parents still worry that no one will marry their daughter for as petty a reason as riding a bike

In such a hostile atmosphere, every single woman on wheels is an inspiration and 22-year-old Beenish Afreen is one such symbol of change

Hailing from Karachi’s middle class family and working as a sales executive after completing her graduation, Afreen perceives herself as a rebel who embraced her passion with open arms

From denunciation to enthusiastic waves, she faced traditional barriers but feels that bike riding is very liberating

In one way or another, she fought conservatism and societal dogmatism and is now busy in reclaiming women’s rights on the roads

I met Afreen at an exhibition and we conversed about her insights on women motorcycling

Here is my tête-a-tête with Karachi’s woman biker who shares her experiences

What prompted you to start bike riding and what was your parents’ reaction? Growing up a tomboy made me think differently

I was not interested in dolls; quite the reverse actually, playing cricket and football was my favourite

As a child, I quickly learned how to start my father’s motorcycle

I was well aware of some of the mechanisms of a bike but due to my short height, I wasn’t able to reach the foot rest

However, at the age of 14, I fully focused on testing my bike riding skills

My parents were not shocked to learn about my passion for motorcycling so there was not a strong resistance from their side

How did you get your first bike and what do you ride now? I saved money from my salary and luckily within a short span of time, I was able to buy my own Scooty 70cc bike

I still use it for my daily commute

With the passage of time, I focused on practicing to explore my hidden talent and now I can easily ride all heavy bikes, whether it’s a Hayabusa, Ninja, Z1000 or a Harley Davidson

Tell us about the challenges you have faced as a woman biker? Being a woman biker in Pakistan is not an easy task

I faced a lot of criticism and challenges

Our society still thinks that a girl should be married at an early age; her ultimate end is to be an obedient housewife and daughter-in-law

I confronted such kind of mentality, people used to say that I am a girl and so I can’t do things that are associated with men

However, instead of discouraging, these annotations kept me motivated to reach my goals

Do you think that your life has been changed due to bike riding? Yes, so many things have been changed in my life just because of my motorcycling

It made me more confident and it opens up several opportunities for me

I have empowered myself through bike riding

I don’t need to request others for support and neither do I face any transport problems

In fact, I have owned my public space and feel absolutely blessed to be able to do what I really enjoy

You have travelled from Karachi to Kashmir on your bike

Tell me what was the reaction of people that you met on the road? How did they treat you? Some people showed their extreme dislike towards my biking as it was a disgrace and shame that a girl is riding a bike

But then, there were those who were very encouraging; they appreciated my effort, made videos and took selfies with me

Overall, I can say that people who accepted me as a woman biker were the real force to boost my moral

Do you think Pakistan’s riding scenario is different for women as compared to men? I have observed that traffic police’s attitude is very encouraging towards women motorcyclists

They deal very politely with them if there is no license, helmet or if other safety gears are missing

Instead of challan (ticket), they would give a last warning, appreciate you and let you go

I am not saying they should not challan women bikers, but I feel that this kind of behaviour is very encouraging

Having a license, wearing a helmet or safety gear is essential for all bikers

All of us should promote safe riding

On the contrary, women riders are not an everyday occurrence, so people on roads stare at you and pass negative remarks

Sometimes, women bikers are chased by men on bikes and cars

What can one anticipate for women bike riding in the next three to five years? If there is some kind of support from government or private sector, you will see that women bikers will multiply in numbers

Women are eager to learn it; they perceive it as an inexpensive safe transport facility

A little bit of backing can change the road scene, with lots of confident women bikers taking over

Do you agree that women, irrespective of their age, should be encouraged to learn riding? Yes, every woman should be encouraged to learn biking

Pakistan’s women face a lot of transport issues

Their immobility is hampering their liberation

They are dependent on others for their social mobility

If women have their own motorcycle or scooty, they can go wherever they want and engage themselves in new working conditions

I strongly feel that there should be an equal platform for women bikers of all ages throughout the country

Do you have any bike club? I don’t have any proper bike club

As a private instructor, I train and give free classes to girls who are passionate about bike riding

You wouldn’t believe that majority of lower class girls want to learn bike riding so that they wouldn’t face transport humiliation

But due to limited resources, these girls are deprived of the chance of liberation

What kind of support or encouragement would you like to see from the government? There is no appropriate support for women bikers in Sindh

However, the government of Punjab has worked tremendously to support the cause by launching motorbike subsidy scheme for women and providing free motorcycle training

Through this platform, I would like to appeal to the Sindh government and other related people to open up institutes or clubs for women riders

Such institutes can become a chain of change

Irrespective of the class difference, women are eager to learn bike riding

However, due to inadequate measures, not only their talent is dying but a large segment of society is immobile

The government’s support can really empower women and bring a lot of change in society

Do you have some words for aspiring women bikers? As a biker, I would like to say that ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’

Instead of listening to negativity, focus on your own endowment

It is no doubt that there are a lot of hindrances and societal discouragement, but again, if one has an empowering mindset, such things can actually help to enflame your desire to achieve your objectives

All I can say is that we, as women, are taking new steps in the right direction which our future generations will proudly follow

So, if you want to achieve it, you can! Thank you Afreen! Let’s all give a big round of applause to this amazing, strong lady who loves to keep going on despite all the obstacles

We need more women like her, who are role models for us

We as a society should be more accepting and try to encourage women to be independent

There are, of course, problems that a woman has to face on the roads but that should not be the reason why we do not let women live their lives

Stand up for the women if they get harassed on roads and encourage them to keep going

It is time women take on the world; let them be free! All photos: Beenish Afreen

Date:07-Jul-2018 Reference:View Original Link