Despite all odds and social taboo, female bikers are riding their bikes not just in Dhaka, but all over the country, a trend which has seen a rise in the last year-and-a-half.
Riding her motorcycle over the past three years has not been easy for ChiniSnigdha, a 25-year-old private university student.
But for many women, riding their own two-wheeler has become a solution to save time by avoiding the hassles of public transport and heavy traffic.
“When a girl is riding a motorcycle, the men on the streets sometimes try to touch them,” Snigdha said.
“They hurl abusive words while male motorcyclists ride their bikes closely to scare the female riders. I have even been asked to stop in the middle of the street by male bikers, but kept on going out of fear.”
According to the Bangladesh Woman Riders Club (BWRC), over 2,000 women ride motorcycles in the country, of which 80% are working women. The number is rising all the time.
BWRC founder Ishrat Khan Mojlish said she started the club when she came to know about the willingness of other girls to learn and ride bikes, despite the obvious obstacles.
“Seven years ago, when I started riding a motorcycle, people used to throw bricks at me on the streets,” she said.
“I learned to ride in the middle of the night so that people could not see me. In the first year, I hid the fact that I had a motorcycle from my family but now, my mother supports me.”
Snigdha’s father, Alamgir Chowdhury, thinks it is too dangerous for girls to ride motorcycles.
“I am afraid that they will become victims of many things. I hope my daughter does not face any problems,” he said while explaining why fathers may object to their daughters riding motorcycles.
Ishrat said that over the past four years, BWRC has trained several thousand girls on how to drive a motorcycle. Even then it remains the sole group dedicated to female riders, compared to the estimated 1,200 groups and organisations which exist for male riders.
“Girls ride motorcycles as the risk of being physically harassed is lesser than on public transport. We can move from one place to another to avoid harassment. It also helps girls to gain self-confidence and fight the inequality that exists in our society,” Ishrat said.
Take the example of KashinathpurMohila Degree College in Beraupazila of Pabna where even a year ago many students had walk 10-15km to attend classes. Now, many of the girls commute to the remote college on motorcycles.
Then there is 45-year-old Rozen Mahmud, who has been riding a motorcycle for past 17 years and cited her son and daughter as her inspiration.
“When I started to ride motorcycles, I faced many obstacles. I wore a burqa (veil) and people made rude comments on the streets,” said Rozen, who is an area manager at Brac Micro Finance Programme.
BWRC founder Ishrat said the police could go further in the protection they offer women riders. “We still need a friendlier atmosphere and more cooperation from the police to keep moving safely,” she said.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police Additional Commissioner (Traffic) Mosleh Uddin Ahmed said police have been able to help the female motorcyclists on the streets whenever they had faced trouble or sought support.
“We provide instant support if there is any complaint. In a case of harassment, we take action based on complaints and proof,” he said.
Bangladesh has 29 female traffic sergeants, of which 18 of them already use motorcycles. Female Traffic Sergeant Ishmot Ara told the Dhaka Tribune that she is yet to encounter a difficult situation in her time on the road.
“If a girl asks for help on the streets, we try to help her,” she said. “We will take initiatives if female riders come to us with complaints, but we also check that the licences of female drivers are okay.”
Niloy Motors Ltd Tejgaon Sales Executive Oliul Islam said of the 100 bikes his company sells each month, around 10% are to female buyers and this number has increased since last year.
He said: “We sell Hero Company’s Scooty. There is a lot of demand for it. In fact, the female bankers and journalists, and women who work in buying houses, have bought motorcycles from here.”
New Bike Centre proprietor SolaimanDhali said: “In the last six months, sales have risen. We have 8-10 female customers a month. They are buying the Scooty and 125cc motorcycles as well.”
Around 3,646 women have driving licences across Bangladesh, of which 1,680 are based in Dhaka, according to Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) data.