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Cycologic: The power of women for the power of bicycles in Uganda

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture
Amanda Ngabirano riding a bicycle in Kampala

“She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life.” - Susan B. Anthony
 
In America during the 1890s, the bicycle provided women with unprecedented autonomy of mobility and abolished many old fashions, including corsets, bustles, and long voluminous skirts. Bicycles came to epitomize the quintessential “new woman” of the late 19th Century. She was believed to be college educated, active in sports, interested in pursuing a career, and looking for a marriage based on equality. The image of the “new women” was also almost always portrayed on a bicycle! An 1895 article found in the American Wheelman, mentions suffragist leader, Elizabeth Cady Stanton who predicted: “The bicycle will inspire women with more courage, self-respect, self-reliance….”
 
At a conference I attended on cycling, the coffee break chatter included this intriguing question: “What can be more picturesque than a woman on the bicycle?” After a few moments of loud deliberations none of the cycling scholars were able to come up with a clever enough answer, but the expected answer was very obvious: “TWO women riding bicycles!” What a perfect match for the testimony of women’s rights activist, Susan B. Anthony, who stated: “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel… the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”
 
It’s amazing to witness people from different walks of life; different countries or differing religions work together for the social good. Such is the compelling story about five women who indirectly and directly empower each other to advocate for the usage of the bicycle as a means of transport in Uganda’s Capital, Kampala. When the London based staff writer, Maeve Shearlaw of The Guardian, wrote an article in August 2015 titled, "Potholes, sewage and traffic hostility: can Kampala ever be a bike-friendly city?", she was most likely not anticipating that a year later her story would inspire three female students from Sweden’s Red Cross College University in Stockholm. The three were taking a course called: Documentary in the World, as a part of a one-year program focused on global social issues.