Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

In Pakistan, Women Find Freedom In Quarantine Through Bikes


The coronavirus shutdowns have cleared the roads of a lot of cars and cleared the way for bicycles. There's been a huge surge in cycling around the world, including in Pakistan, where the face of cyclists is changing. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports from Islamabad.


DIAA HADID, BYLINE: It's a hectic day for Haroun (ph) General at AeroCycling. It's a hole-in-the-wall bike shop.

HAROUN GENERAL: (Speaking Urdu).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Well, can you show me the tire?

GENERAL: Ah, OK. Just a moment.

The number of bikes that have gone in the past one month is actually more than the number of bikes we've sold in the past two years. If you want to bring the bigger bike (speaking Urdu), we're open from 12 to 5.

HADID: Before the pandemic, most of General's customers were men. Now, he's got families and women, like Reema Khan. She's eyeing the last lady's bike for sale.

REEMA KHAN: It's red and a black bike.

HADID: It reminds her of when she last rode a bike.

KHAN: When I was a kid, I had a red and a black bike, so I'm very interested in a red and a black bike if I can get one.

HADID: She's even brought a picture of her childhood bike, the last one that she rode. It's seen as vulgar for grown women to ride, but now things have changed. And it seems some women have taken up cycling because there's fewer men on the road to harass them. Salwa Jenjua is 26. She dusted off her brother's bike a few weeks ago.

SALWA JENJUA: It's kind of upsetting that it took a pandemic for girls to feel safe to ride their bikes on their own.

HADID: Still, Jenjua mostly rides with friends, not alone. And like most women on bicycles here, she's from an upscale area.

JENJI: We speak with a certain privilege because we live in neighborhoods where, of course, like, there's people staring everywhere. But then our neighborhoods are relatively safer.

HADID: Now on a bike, she feels free.

JENJI: So nice. It's been really, really nice. Such a invigorating and, like, an amazing experience, you know?

HADID: Especially with a view of the rolling hills.

We're driving down one of Islamabad's most scenic roads, the Himalayas on our left-hand side, and the city begins on our right. There's more people on bicycles than I've ever seen before in this city. And we can see in the distance another two women, so we'll stop over to say hello to them.

Hi there.


HADID: They're two sisters. Adeela Zain has just taken up biking.

ADEELA ZAIN: The first week was really difficult. Now, as it's the second month, I'm liking it more and my - I'm increasing my distance and time.

HADID: Her sister Misbah Anwar has ridden for years. She says she's used to being harassed. It happened just a few days ago.

MISBAH ANWAR: There were a couple of people who were, like, passing some remarks. I turned my cycle. I went up to them, and I - you know, literally, I scolded them. And I said, does this suit you?

HADID: Like, does it suit you to be a jerk? But Anwar says this pandemic could be a small blessing.

ANWAR: We have an advantage with this lockdown and corona and all. The cycling has become really common among the girls in Islamabad. Now people will get used to that OK, now girls can be on the bicycles, too.

HADID: Now though, Pakistan is lifting its lockdown, and that means more cars and more men on the roads. Still, Adeela Zain says she'll stay on her bike.

ZAIN: Yes, definitely. I'm going to continue it, Inshallah.

HADID: Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.