Cycloville Field Report #2: Women’s Bike Workshop

News released on: 
Feb 3rd, 2016

Introductions at the Women's Bike Workshop

'Who likes to ride their bike?'

Workshop participants before the Mountain Bike Ride.

Prepping for the ride

Charlotte, Bikes Not Bombs' International Programs Director, spent three weeks visiting our partner Cycloville in Nairobi, Kenya.

According to a 2014 survey in Nairobi, 96.9% of all cyclists in Nairobi were men, meaning just over 3% of cyclists were women. With this is mind, one of my main objectives for my visit to Nairobi was to meet with women cyclists and listen to their stories. I wanted to hear about their experiences and thoughts about the barriers to women cycling, and ask them about potential ways to get more women on bikes.

During my last weekend in Nairobi, we put together a Women’s Bike Forum event to bring together as many women as possible. The event was held outside the city, and the Safari Simbaz put together an amazing mountain bike ride for the participants, and afterwards I facilitated a women’s bike conversation. More than 25 women participated, and as we sat in a circle introducing ourselves, many women commented that it was the first time that they had seen so many female cyclists in one place. Some, who were newer to cycling, said that they felt inspired and motivated to see so many other women riding and that it gave them hope that they weren’t alone.

Some people were bike commuters, one was a former racer who represented Kenya in the Commonwealth Games and now owns a bike shop, three trainees from Cycloville came, and most were recreational cyclists. Some had been riding a bike since they were very young; some had only learned to ride a few weeks earlier.

After introducing ourselves we did one of my favorite ice breakers that I’ve learned from Youth Programs at BNB. Standing in a circle, I read statements aloud such as ‘I ride my bike to work,’ and anyone who agreed with that statement changed places in the circle. Everyone changed places when I said ‘I like to ride my bike,’ and everyone also switched places when I said ‘I have been harassed while riding my bike.’ After each statement, we would re-introduce ourselves to our neighbors to learn one another’s names.

The bulk of the workshop consisted of discussing two questions in small groups: what are barriers to getting more women riding in Nairobi, and what are potential strategies to getting more women riding bikes. Many of the barriers that we discussed were ones that I’ve heard all over the world: women have less money to buy a bike, women have less free time for biking, biking is seen as a men’s activity, women have more responsibilities at home which prevent them from biking, etc. However, we also discussed barriers that are not common everywhere, although not unique to Kenya, such as a pervasive belief that riding a bike will cause a woman to lose her virginity.

As the conversation turned to solutions and strategies moving forward, many of the women got animated talking about the different types of programs and events they wanted to organize. They wanted to organize a train-the-trainers workshop so that more women feel empowered to teach other women. Others wanted to organize Learn-to-Ride classes since many women don’t know how to ride. An illustrator suggested creating a comic strip about a little girl biking to show from a young age that girls can ride. Someone suggested a campaign to educate people that riding a bike doesn’t cause you to lose your virginity. As the ideas kept flowing, so did the energy and feeling that these ideas were totally possible and achievable.

We ended the workshop with a next step to create an online group to keep the conversation going, and a commitment to move the best ideas we identified forward. Part of the reason why I wanted to hold this event was to have a time for me as an outsider to listen to the experiences and ideas of these women, so that I could better understand how to create a gender equity strategy with Cycloville going forward. This year Bikes Not Bombs will be supporting some of the participants to implement their ideas in hopes that together we can slowly but surely increase the percentage of women riding in Nairobi to more than 3%!