Hello, I’m here to talk about how women on bikes will save the world. Well, if not save it, at least make a massively positive impact on a region of the world that, given the current geopolitical climate, could certainly use a little saving. Female bikers in the Middle East are growing from a band of brave revolutionaries into a larger movement and the social, environmental and economic implications of this movement are massive. Not only are these women defying cultural norms and leading a force of female empowerment in an unlikely area, they have the potential to affect change across the region, the specific impacts of which are threefold.
The first is of course that of the advancement of women’s rights, expansion of expectations and acceptance of female independence. In most middle eastern countries, particularly in more rural areas, it isn’t broadly acceptable for women to travel under their own power. In Saudi Arabia, women aren’t legally able to drive, but groups of female bikers are growing and pushing back against the general message from the government, church and culture that they ought only to use their bikes for “entertainment” meaning they only ought to bike around in circles. In the United Arab Emirates women’s biker teams are forming, despite conservative culture and potential harassment. The same goes for Egypt and Iran, despite the fact that there are those within the Muslim faith that interpret Sharia law as indicating that women cannot ride bikes. Women around the world are making the decision that if men can ride bikes, they can and should too, not only for logistics, convenience, health and financial responsibility, but for independence and advancement.
Now as a die hard feminist I could go on for ages about the myriad reasons women gaining equality in any context is wildly beneficial, but for the sake of expediency, I’ll stick with two. Now, if you weren’t before, I’m sure that after a semester at USF you’re all at least somewhat environmentally aware and have at least a basic understanding of the impacts of environmentally friendly transportation alternatives. Unfortunately, the bulk of the rest of the world doesn’t have the advantage of a USF education and immersion in environmental protection initiatives. As a result, many of the major metropolitan areas of the world are incredibly detrimental to the environment, contributing to climate change and negatively impacting the health of their inhabitants. For many of the cities in the Middle East, Tehran, Cairo, Dubai, transportation pollution is the worst offender. But with studies showing again and again the benefits of biking outweighing the harms of exposure to air pollution and in fact decreasing those harms the more people bike, biking in cities, making it un-gendered and acceptable for all in metropolitan workforces does not have a disadvantage. The cheapest, easiest and potentially most impactful way to decrease the harmful effects of transportation pollution is making the switch to bikes. Cairo is largely considered to be one of the most polluted cities in that part of the world, Dubai is not much better. Through the end of 2016, Tehran was choked in a thick, hazy smog that claimed hundreds of lives, similar to the fog that recently descended over Beijing, similar to the smog that enveloped Los Angeles in the ’70s, similar to the smog that covered London in the ’50s. And if history is anything to judge by, those who lost their lives in the smog are just the beginning, as the number of those who’s deaths are related to the smog might not be understood until years to come. The environment issues in the Middle East are quickly transforming from a problem to an urgent crisis. A change needs to be made now, and allowing a large component of the workforce use an environmentally friendly and healthfully beneficial means of transportation would quickly kick that change into gear.
But what about the money? The monetary benefits of riding bikes are easy to track and understand, but in the instances of heavily polluted cities, those benefits can be much more far reaching than one might expect. Of course savings in fuel are an immediate impact, as are those of car insurance payments and car maintenance payments. But biking can, in the long run, save money in healthcare costs. Lets say every man, woman and child in Tehran who possibly could suddenly switched to biking. Consider all the money saved that would have otherwise gone to respiratory illness treatment, all the money that will be saved from going to treat a heart condition, diabetes, joint problems and the laundry list of health concerns alleviated by biking. Not only do people tend to be healthier by biking, but improving the overall living conditions of a city make the population of that city healthier. So not only will day to day living and healthcare costs be lower for bike riders, but, as any econ 101 class will probably teach, the chain reaction of helping a nations middle and lower class workforce will create a net benefit nation wide. More prosperous middle class with more liquid assets equates to a higher GDP, higher investment rate, the list goes on. And all of this on top of the huge potential growth from giving women accessible and independent transportation, allowing them greater access into the workforce. The biking movement in the Middle East is bringing equality, hope of better health and massive potential financial growth. Maybe women on bikes won’t actually save the world. Maybe they will. All I know is that they’re doing a pretty damn good job so far.