I had worked in Uganda n 1971 and again in 1979, but the question never occurred to me until 2010 when I travelled around E. Africa as a tourist, with my wife.
Why do the women in Kenya and Tanzania ride bicycles and the women in Uganda do not?
This, I thought put the women of Uganda at a serious disadvantage. A bicycle is an important tool, facilitating the transport of water, firewood and produce, in addition to people on the way to work or school. Bicycles would increase women’s productivity and prosperity.
I returned to Uganda as a volunteer in 2013, working in a construction camp for a faith-based NGO installing gravity feed water pipelines. When I asked my question, “Why do women in Uganda not ride bicycles?”, I was told there were “cultural reasons”, implying that the subject was taboo, involved sex and sexuality, and I was encouraged to drop it. I have continued to ask questions, however.
What I have discovered is as follows:
- Most girls and especially mature women are discouraged, if not prohibited from riding bicycles in most of Uganda
- There are small areas in the North and East of Uganda where women riding bicycle is common.
- Riding bicycles is on a list of a number of activities in which women have been prevented from engaging. To do so would mark the woman as one of loose morals and would risk her being called a prostitute. On the list are:
- Riding bicycles
- Climbing trees
- Milking cows
- Crossing one’s legs when sitting
All these activities were thought to allow men and boys to look up the skirts of women and girls
- There was also a belief that the bicycle seat itself could destroy a woman’s virginity or decrease her fertility
- Also, there is a belief that the seat could alter a woman’s interest in or performance in bed.
These seemed to be outdated beliefs and I hoped that, somehow, I could empower the women of Uganda by helping them ride bicycles.
Back volunteering again in 2017, I was delighted that, when I shared these thoughts with my Ugandan friends, both men and women, they were received enthusiastically! And thus, Women on Wheels was born
Dr. S Brian Lucas