Freewheeling women: campus bikes liberate Pakistan’s female students

A group of students riding bikes at the soft launch of CYKIQ at NUST campus, Islamabad, Pakistan, on May 10, 2017. (File photo: CYKIQ via Reuters)
Updated 21 September 2017

Freewheeling women: campus bikes liberate Pakistan’s female students

ISLAMABAD: For Senam Khan, one of the founders of a bike sharing scheme on a Pakistani university campus, the start-up has had unexpected — and welcome — consequences.
The aim of the five young entrepreneurs who conceived the sharing scheme, named CYKIQ, was to solve the problem of covering long distances on the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) campus in the capital Islamabad.
But as well as convenience for students, CYKIQ has helped campus society “accept that women are equal to men and their modes of transport should also be the same,” said 21-year-old Khan, in the final year of her industrial design degree at NUST.
CYKIQ “provided all of us a simple solution to our most dire problem — long walking distances and short attendances,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In a conservative nation where women are conspicuously absent in public spaces, and the sight of a woman on a bike is a rarity, more than half of CYKIQ’s customers are women.
Hitching rides in cars is common for male students, but, according to another CYKIQ co-founder, Ans Shahzad, “females are hesitant to sit in cars and or jump on motorbikes with their male counterparts.”
Female students at NUST have embraced the scheme, launched earlier this year, in which bikes can be booked and returned through a mobile app.
“CYKIQ is a savior for me in this scorching heat; it’s reasonable, easy and fun,” said 21-year old Umme Hani, also an industrial design student and living in NUST’s hostel.
There are 50 imported bikes strewn across 10 locations where cycles can be parked for easy access without the need for elaborate docking stations — covering an area of nearly 1,000 acres of campus — including the hostel, canteen, classrooms and administration block.
The response has been so overwhelming, especially from women, that by mid October, 250 more bikes will be added.
“Uber for bicycles,” is how Shahzad, a 23-year-old engineer and one of the five founders, described the scheme.
“It took us nearly three years of working all days and nights to fine tune it to perfection,” he said.
It is the first such venture at a Pakistani college, although at least 33 universities in the United States have some kind of bike sharing progamme.
Syeda Farvah Sameen, an MBA student, said she finds biking “liberating.”
The ability to move around quickly “just by the swiping of a card” has made her life on campus easier.
“I don’t mind cycling from one end of the campus to the other or having a friendly race with a fellow CYKIQ-er!” she said, laughing.
Bicycles are rented out for 500 Pakistani rupees ($4.70) a month, 250 rupees ($2.30) a week or a daily rate of 80 rupees (75 cents).
The program aims to reach 10,000 students with 300 cycles. “If the shared model isn’t used then there would have to be thousands of cycles to cater for all the customers,” Shahzad said.
And a CYKIQ customers “never has to worry about flat tires or loose brakes,” he added.
CYKIQ is expanding to other university campuses, and in the longer term it aims to emulate bike-sharing schemes in cities such as London and Paris that allow users to travel smoothly around the city and reduce congestion and pollution.
($1 = 105.3600 Pakistani rupees)

37% of Arab women have experienced violence, UN workshop hears

Updated 20 September 2018

37% of Arab women have experienced violence, UN workshop hears

  • A UN workshop in Beirut has been getting to grips with a critical issue for the Arab region
  • Of ESCWA’s 22 member states, countries that are considered to have adequate laws in place include Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Tunisia, Morocco and Lebanon

BEIRUT: Arab women and their protection took center stage at a regional workshop held by the UN in Beirut this week.

Held on Tuesday and Wednesday at the United Nations House in the Lebanese capital, the workshop to support women in the Arab region was organized by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the Arab League. 

The aim was to address violence against women and highlight the role of international and regional bodies specializing in women’s issues, as well as their impact on the development of policies, strategies, national laws and standard services to address the issue.

“Violence against women is one of our key pillars, and we chose the topic based on the request from our Arab member states,” said Mehrinaz El-Awady, director at the ESCWA Center for Women. “Most of our work is related to eliminating violence. We do studies and a lot of capacity-building on certain topics.”

The center conducted a number of studies on the topic this year, adding to its seven years of cumulative work on the issue. The studies are complemented by workshops to fill the knowledge gap. 

“There are a lot of initiatives done by national women’s machineries, which are the government offices, departments, commissions or ministries that provide leadership and support to government efforts to achieve greater equality between women and men, but they are not all aligned with international institutions, policy and gender equality in general,” El-Awady said. “There are specific requirements for legislation on violence against women, and we have six Arab countries that have done this legislation, yet we need more alignment on these legislations, to have a broader definition on violence against women.” 

She spoke of the potential in Arab countries to eliminate violence, which the UN wishes to build on. “We’re introducing international instruments on violence against women and key pillars that should be legislation on the topic,” El-Awady said. 

“It should cover prevention, protection, prosecution and rehabilitation, and we’re picking some of the examples of countries that have done legislation, allowing them to present the newly developed laws so other countries that haven’t had a law would be encouraged to follow the same path.”

Of ESCWA’s 22 member states, countries that are considered to have adequate laws in place include Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Tunisia, Morocco and Lebanon. In 2013, Saudi Arabia passed legislation to protect women, children and domestic workers against domestic abuse. It was followed earlier this year by an anti-harassment law. 

Other countries are said to deal with violence against women under the penal code, which ESCWA is advocating against. “When you have violence against women in a penal code, it loses the privacy,” she added. “It’s not violence from an intimate partner.”

According to UN Women, one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence at least once, mostly by an intimate partner. In some countries, that figure is as high as 70 per cent. Globally, almost four in every 10 female homicide victims are killed by intimate partners.

Violence against women has risen in the past few years in the region, which, according to the World Bank, has the lowest number of laws protecting women from domestic violence in the world. UN Women estimates 37 per cent of Arab women have experienced violence, with indicators that the percentage might be higher. 

“The region has had a prevalence of violence against women, and it’s one of the things we’re trying to support countries (in),” El-Awady said. 

“We hope Arab member states are more sensitive to the requirement of legislation on violence against women and start the consideration of having a protection order with the legislation to complement it. There’s a momentum and Arab countries are now more alert — it’s a phenomenon that requires attention from them.” 

Women and girls make up 70 per cent of all known human-trafficking victims. Adult women constitute 50 percent of the total number of trafficked people, while two in three child victims of human trafficking are young girls. 

Rapists are often shown leniency or even acquitted in the Arab region if they marry their victims. In Morocco, Article 475 of the penal code, which allowed rapists to avoid prosecution if they marry their victims, was repealed in 2014 following the suicide of a rape victim who was forced to marry her rapist. Today, 700 million women have been married under the age of 18, and 14 percent of Arab girls marry under the age of 18.

“Violence against women has multiple consequences, at the individual level, within the family, community and wider society,” said Manal Benkirane, regional program specialist at UN Women’s Regional Office for Arab States. “It can lead to fatal outcomes and have a significant burden on the economy. Despite the ongoing efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls in the region, its prevalence and social acceptance remain high.”

She stressed the importance of having enabling legislative frameworks to change the social norms and acceptance of violence, and to ensure women’s access to services that meet their needs. “Otherwise, women in the region end up being violated twice, first when they are subjected to assault, and second when they are denied their right to care and support,” she said. “This workshop offers the space for participating countries to share their experiences, achievements but also challenges they faced in addressing violence in the region.”

More than six in every 10 women survivors of violence refrain from asking for support or protection. The remaining ones who speak up turn to family and friends.

Globally, the total direct and indirect costs of violence against women for countries are estimated to be as high as 1 to 2 percent of their gross national product, which amounts to millions of dollars worldwide. 

“Violence against women (has) become a critical issue in the Arab region,” said Shaza Abdellateef, head of women in the women, family and childhood department at the Arab League’s social affairs sector. 

“This is especially pronounced under the recent circumstances that some Arab countries suffer from, with the spread of armed conflicts, refugees and the increase of violence against women, including domestic violence. It is one of the most important issues in the Arab region today.”