On the crowded roads of the teeming eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, Tayyaba Tariq zips through the rowdy traffic on her brand new motorcycle.
In jeans and a bright jacket, with a white helmet clasped over her hair, the 22-year-old student is part of a new wave of female drivers in Pakistan who are pushing the boundaries set for them by men.
The idea of women straddling motorcycles, clambering into the cabs of Pakistan’s iconic heavy trucks, or driving rickshaws for money is still taboo in the deeply conservative Muslim country of some 200 million, where gender discrimination is routine.
There has been a slew of recent campaigns by women for greater access to public spaces to which they are often denied, such as roadside eateries—and the roads themselves.
The importance of the issue is underscored by the fact that three quarters of Pakistani women do not participate in the labour market, mainly due to a lack of safe transportation, according to a study by the International Labour Organisation.
“If girls learn to ride a motorcycle, they can move freely, come and go independently,” says Tariq, who rides 25 kilometres (15 miles) to the border with India and back every day for her job as a customs officer on her motorbike, a far more affordable mode of transportation than a car.
Sajjad Mehdi, a traffic police official in Lahore, said he had trained nearly 150 women to ride a motorbike recently.
“But there are many women who learned to ride a bike on their own,” he added.
The government of Punjab province has also realised the importance of getting women on to motorcycles, launching an awareness campaign in November titled “Women on Wheels” that highlighted gender-based violence and street harassment.
The campaign saw 150 women, who had completed a police-run motorbike training programme, ride through the streets of Lahore on Sunday in a rally attended by diplomats and human rights lawyers, as it was revealed that 1,000 subsidised pink scooters would be given to working women and students under the scheme.
Tariq may be able to avoid men harassing her by nipping through traffic, but women using Lahore’s many rickshaws are often not so fortunate: trapped by necessity in a tiny vehicle with a male driver, getting from A to B can often be a hassle.