By Melissa Bruntlett
For most of the 21st century, cities around the world have embraced a resurgence in the power of cycling to move people in sustainable and active ways. However, with infrastructure often slow to catch up to the need, the image of cycling has tended to appear difficult, athletic, and more suited to men. What is often not communicated is how cycling in all its forms can be a tool for emancipation for women, providing freedom and autonomy to move through the city unencumbered, facilitating the varied types of journeys women make, and even providing a tool for taking one’s power back and be in control of their lives rather than dependent on someone else.
The power of cycling in creating a more inclusive mobility environment is important to share through experience. There are many tangible barriers to everyday cycling for women and non-binary and transgender individuals – lack of safe infrastructure, lack of access to cycles, lack of ability in first knowing how to cycle, etc. But these are surmountable goals through investment and education. At the same time, awareness of what is possible when cycling can help overcome the more intangible barriers, stemming from the perception that cycling is not something for them. Through sharing the experiences of women, and building awareness through inclusive campaigns, it is possible to show women and non-binary and transgender individuals that cycling is indeed something attainable, and even freeing.
There is an adage, “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.” Just as increasing representation of women working in the mobility field is vital to changing the narrative, so too is representation in the images we see to encourage cycling. How we communicate varies for the different groups women represent, but the message is the same: Cycling gives women the freedom to move.
Young women and embracing their independence
As many girls reach their teens, how they move through the city changes dramatically. The innocence of childhood is shed as they become more aware of their bodies, of social networks, and how society perceives them in the public realm. For many, cycling can be seen as no longer viable as a tool for transport, exposing them to danger, impractical for the types of trips they need to take, or even isolating.
What has been seen, however, is the social camaraderie that can be developed through cycling. The very nature of cycling side by side, chatting in groups is not only a way to establish social bonds with peers, it provides freedom through moving in groups, safe in being surrounded by peers. Cycling also allows young women to not be dependent on family, friends, or public transport for mobility, allowing them the autonomy to decide where they want to go and how.
Cycling and the power to improve the life of the 21st woman
21st century women lead very diverse lives depending on their education and career paths, decision around family planning, or deciding not to have a family, sexual identity, geographic location, economic means, and cultural and social dynamics. What is common amongst all these types of women is that cycling can provide an effective and practical means of transport. It is important to emphasize how freeing cycling can be in reaching a variety of destinations, facilitating care trips and trip chaining, and how it allows them to maintain control over their mobility.
When women see that cycling can be done in everyday clothing, done by women of all body types, races, and ages, and performing the daily activities on their peers in an excellent way to show what is possible on two (and three-) wheels. When women see themselves in the people cycling in their communities is shows how accessible cycling can be and evoke the feeling that any women can do it.
Cycling is inclusive to all abilities
When speaking of the emancipating power of cycling, it is important to remember that cycling is not just a tool for women without disabilities. E-bikes, tricycles and quadri-cycles, adaptive cycles, rickshaws, etc., are all tools that can be used by women to maintain control of their mobility even if they are living with visible or invisible disabilities. Just as women without mobility challenges want to be in control of their own mobility, so too do those with one, especially since being reliant on family and/or friends or public transport that may be inaccessible limits their access to opportunities. Cycles allow women to continue active participation in society, not limited by their disability.
Safe, separated or traffic-calmed infrastructure can be in emancipating people with disabilities. Creating space for the various types of cycles makes it more comfortable for women with mobility challenges to move freely and helps to normalize cycling as a mobility tool for all abilities.
The freedom to move has no age limit
At a time when our global population is aging rapidly, emphasizing the role of cycling in independent mobility, especially for aging women, is imperative. There remain areas of the world where driving and car ownership rates among women remain low. At the same time, women continue to outlive their male counterparts. Therefore, cycling presents the opportunity for women to maintain their mobility well into old age, allowing them to continue participating in society in however they wish, not reliant of younger family or friends for mobility, and remaining a part of the social fabric of their city.
It is important to emphasize the social nature cycling offers to aging women; the happiness brought by independent mobility, and how easy daily life can remain through cycling. The role e-bikes are playing in enabling longer-lasting independent mobility cannot be overstated, giving women the extra boost they need to remain active. Of course, showing the power of cycling to maintain ownership of one’s freedom move emphasizes to younger women how cycling is a lifelong joy.
Cycling is more than just a transportation tool, it gives women of all ages, backgrounds, sexual identities, and abilities the freedom to move, and what could be more inclusive than that?!