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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.

Elsa,Veronica, and Emilia filming in Kampala

After reading the article, Emilia Stålhammar, Elsa Löwdin and Veronica Pålsson, who are from different parts of Sweden, agreed that the Dutch educated urban planner, Amanda Ngabirano, a lecturer at the Makerere University who is also a persistent and persuasive advocate for the implementation of bike lanes in the business district of Kampala, would be the most suitable subject for their documentary. Upon approval from their professors, Birger Nilsson and Mathias Monarque, they traveled to Uganda in January and in March of 2016 for hands-on research and filming sessions.

Initially, the goal was to learn the intricacies and subtleties of film production all the way from taking an idea to script, and directing, photographing, and editing it into a finished product. Instead, on top of obtaining a diploma, they also ended up with a 15-minute award-winning documentary, entitled: Cycologic. “When we first arrived in Kampala, we were overwhelmed by the traffic situation. There are endless queues, pollution, motorcyclists and cars attacking you from every angle, and it felt like a war zone.”- reflects one of the directors, Emilia Stålhammar, on their first impressions of Kampala. Film and cycling experts at 11th the International Cycling Film Festival in Herne, Germany, presented them with the Goldene Kurbel that is perceived within the cycling community as the equivalent of the Oscar for bicycle related films. They also won the Audience Award, Three Golden Spokes, in Krakow, Poland, in the second leg of this festival. 


The coincidental and intuitive synergy that these outdoor loving women displayed in making a societal difference is admirable, but so is the determination of the Swedish trio who risked taking out personal loans to make the production a reality. The truth is, nowadays it takes extraordinary measures to tell such a story and to be heard loud and clear. 
 
Besides sharing Amanda’s passion for a downtown car-free zone for bicycles in Kampala, the film directors wanted to promote new found freedom for women that has led to greater social justice and equity for the African people. Again, Amanda delivers perfectly in this aspect: Seeing a woman riding a bicycle should not be seen as a sign of courage and fearlessness, but rather a sign of safe streets; and that should be the focus of the planning authorities.”
 
Besides the positive outcomes of the bicycle on a woman’s societal status in America in the 1890s, and the current struggles Amanda displayed in Uganda, other countries have been going through many of the same historical experiences. When eighth grade girls in rural India received a bicycle to help them attend and complete school, they were much more likely to do so. Similarly, in his 1999 book, Bicycle Citizens: The Political World of Japanese Housewives, Robin M. LeBlanc reveals that among other things, the bicycle worked to liberate many women from sexual harassment too often encountered on public transportation in Japan.

Bicylces improve the mobility of young girls,
making them more likely to attend school

Amanda dreams selflessly and big for Africa: “I am dreaming of my Africa with safe cycling infrastructure for her future: where all can freely choose to ride somewhere, when they want, where our children will stop riding in our houses and compounds, but get on streets and remain safe from traffic cruelty. And to be honest, I am dreaming of leaders who have this same dream.” When you learn that Amanda, a 37 year old married mother of two, was taught how to ride a bicycle in 2009; and after realizing how expensive and inconvenient it was to commute as a student in The Netherlands, it is clear that she is an agent (force) of (rapid) change. “Riding bicycles promotes social justice and equity since the other members of society considered poor have access to safe cycling facilities,” Amanda adds. “It also promotes social cohesion since both the poor and rich can all ride on the same lanes, and the bicycle is just a bicycle.”
 
As for the “three Swedish crowns”: Emilia Stålhammar, Elsa Löwdin, and Veronica Pålsson, or perhaps they should be called “Sweden’s three rising stars of storytelling,” they live their dream and enjoy every second of it. Their hope is that “Cycologic” will be a stepping-stone to making other documentaries that will connect passionately as a bridge to bring topics of hope and human interest to the public realm.
 
According to Kampala Capital City Authority Association: "The pilot project of bike lanes on Namiermbe Road is on schedule at the moment. The design review has been successfully finished and construction will begin in December 2016.” Amanda hopes that this Christmas will be a “Very Merry Christmas” for all, not only for bicycle lovers. The only question that remains is: will Santa Claus (or his goodwill helpers) have enough bicycles to supply the many that are needed by Kampala’s residents? ... as cycling is everyone's business!


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All photos courtesy of
Emilia Stålhammar, Elsa Löwdin, and Veronica Pålsson

Comments

Submitted by Azelina Khan on

Bicycles will make a huge impact on the traffic mess in Kampala, not to mention they are easily maneuverable and affordable. I believe the biggest setback will be the construction. How will the traffic flow when the streets are blocked? How many people will be against it until they actually try it?

Submitted by Alejandra Ramos on

This article is very inspiring to women around the world. Not only the women who are cycling but the women who support these women and took the time to learn about their lives. This article shows how women are so powerful and courage and could make a change in the world.

Submitted by Hani Hafezi on

This can also be great from an environmental point of view. With a planet on the verge of a huge climate catastrophe, promoting riding bicycles, especially in big cities can be crucial.

Submitted by Sandy Mejia on

It is great that women are trying to take a stand and better this traffic system. These women deserve to be praised. Women making a film about women advocating for something that is a male dominant sport is a wonderful thing to see. As a women it gives me hope. Women are becoming more independent and are doing away with these outdated ideas that we need to be protected by our families and from men.

Submitted by Carine mbajoun tchounkeu on

Pedaler le velo doit etre le premier moyen de transport. Non seulement parceque ca reduit la pollution mais aussi parceque cest moin couteux. Alors, nous devons Vraimen prendre cette idee en consideration.

Submitted by Patricia Limon on

The city of Kampala will be one of the best cities in Africa when we see powerful women cycling. It will show how women can be self-reliant and independent. It will be admired by other cultures to empower the role of women in society.

Submitted by Leslie Escalante on

As a female myself, I find this project exciting. Three students from a completely different country, saw a social problem, and went and did something about it. Although America has come far from the social inequality that it faced in the 1980's, there is still social inequality today. So offering a better cycling life for people, will lead to a better cycling life for women as well, which would lead to more freedom and opportunity for people in general.

Submitted by Akhi Hossain on

I LOVE THIS! Everything about it. This story is so inspiring and it really comes to reveal how such a small change such as having bicycling lanes, can cause such monumental changes. Changes that range from environmental issues, economic issues, daily life issues, views on women, and just everything in general. Women can provide great contributions to society if the authorities gave us a chance.

Submitted by Lily Diaz on

Women have the power to do anything they put their mind to. All these incredible woman who have sparked a change that will help increase the status of women in society. Learning to ride a bike as a child motivated me to not let gender stereotypes get in my way. If a boy can ride a bike, so can I. I believe that women should stand together and not tear each other apart. GIRL POWER!

Submitted by Brenda Garcia on

I think that what these three women have done is simply amazing. They were able to spread the word about the importance of bicycles to not only women, but to people in general. I truly admire what Amanda has been trying to accomplish. She knows that it would be difficult to achieve bike lanes, but she's determined to achieve it anyways. The women discussed in the article are truly admirable and deserve praise.

Submitted by Treshania Blair on

I commend these women on their efforts to make a change in a community that could benefit so greatly. The impact of bicycles has liberted so many through generations. And this documentary highlights not only how effective utilizing bicycles in this Ugandan city will be, but it also shows women empowerment and their independence in the world.

Submitted by Keysi Reyes on

Las mujeres desde hace tiempo han tenido mucho problemas con la equalidad. Antes mucha gente pensaba que las mujeres no deben de hacer lo que los hombres hacen. Piensan que las mujeres deben quedarse en casa para cuidar a los ninos. Y pienso que este movimiento para que las mujeres puedan manejar bicicletas porque es algo que les dan independencia y les dan mas derechos para las mujeres.

Submitted by Jackie Munguia on

This article was very insperiational. It's amazing to see a woman do things that many think us, woman can't do. The positive change that she's doing for Afriica and the influence she is doing for other countries across the world is amazing. I encourage her to keep doing what she's doing, to never give up and continue this journey no matter what obstacles she may conquer.

Submitted by Florian Milloch on

Je pense que la solution d'une ville meilleure à Kampala peut effectivement se trouver à travers l'utilisation facilitée du vélo. Ce n'est pas cher, nous rend complètement autonome et ne pollue pas. Il ne prends pas de place et n'est pas dangereux à utiliser. De plus, comme vu dans le film produit par ces trois étudiants suédois, la nouvelle génération est plus apte à s'adapter à ce nouveau mode de transport pourtant rejeté par la génération précédente. C'est pourquoi je pense que dans les temps à venir, l'évolution du vélo changera la situation actuelle à Kampala.

Submitted by Jennifer Escobar on

Personalmente, no puedo andar en bicicleta. Sin embargo, esta historia es muy impactante, puesto que personas que no podían andar en bicicleta aprendieron, no solo por la facilidad que promueve el andar en bicicleta sino también por ir en contra de estereotipos. Mujeres fueron quienes aprendieron a andar en bicicleta en una sociedad machista. Muy impactante.

Submitted by Nickon Kashi on

The bicycle is a machine, but it is a machine of freedom, independence, strength, hope, and change. Back in the 1890s, here in America, it empowered women and pushed for change due to how it gave them newfound independence that they never knew before. Now, women in developing countries need the bicycle more than ever to learn about how they can achieve anything. On a side note, big round of applause to Emilia Stålhammar, Elsa Löwdin, and Veronica Pålsson for making this inspirational movie which spreads a positive message which promotes change, and I wish the three of you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

Submitted by Lovepreet Singh on

Rightly said about women and bicyles. Women in developing countries are going through a lot. Bicycles help them to feel that they are free. Bicycles also help with the traffic. We should use bicycles more often. And most important, developing countries should allow space for bicycles. Bicycle lanes are must in every city.

Submitted by Brenda Rivera on

After reading this article is amazes me how women stand up for one another. Amanda's story is just one example of how we should we together to build better future for our women. Bicycle lanes would be a great help for this city in Uganda and hopefully, more girls will be able to attend school.

Submitted by YUREMIS DENIS on

Muchas mujeres alrededor del mundo todavia son discriminadas solo por ser mujeres, lo cual no es justo para ellas y para nuestra sociedad. Cada ejemplo de superacion de la mujer como Amanda es digno de compartir y apoyar. En cuanto al proyecto de la bicicleta yo pienso que puede cambiar el ritmo de una ciudad. Contaminacion y trafico pueden disminuir. Ademas los habitantes de Uganda tendran mas tiempo libre fuera del trafico para compartir con su familia.

Submitted by Grecia Rayme on

I think it's amazing how a bicycle is making women in Uganda very powerful. As an individual who has a bicycle, I've only used it a couple times. To me it's very surprising to know that women in Uganda are in need of bicycles so they can transport to places. Not only that but it's a great movenemnt that they are trying to raise awareness how important it is the use of the bicycle.

Submitted by Nuntana Nimrat on

I find this bicycle movement great. It would benefit the country by having bike lanes, creating a safer environment. It will also provide women with hobbies. More importantly, their right to express freedom.

Submitted by Alina on

I really loved reading this and watching the short documentary! I love how determined Amanda was toward the change she wants to make. She wants to break the stereotype towards women through bicycling. As a female myself, I get really angry when people say, "girls can't do this" or "girls can't do that." Women are more capable of doing the same thing as men.

Submitted by Andrew Houston on

Of course this idea sounds great and wonderful, and potentially could be a solution to some of the problems this city (and others) faces. However, it is no surprise the government was reluctant to enact this plan. It is no simple task to build bike lanes where there is physically no place for them to expand. If the builders tear down buildings to make room, homeowners and businesses lose their property. If the already tight roads are divided, further traffic issues will arise with the slower movement of motor vehicles. This plan would also require significant resources of the government to plan, build, and enforce it. The government must balance all the needs of the people; by putting time, energy, and money into this project, others of importance may be neglected. Will enough people even use these lanes to make them worthwhile? Or will it just cause more problems and congestion?

It appears the people of Kampala will find out this December. I am all for equality, empowerment of women, and creative solutions, but movements such as this one need to be reality-checked for how practical and effective they actually are.

Submitted by Georgia De Buerba on

Women starting to take a stand is a step further into women power. Women power is especially needed in developing countries where they are taking advantage of. Men can think this is a silly idea but that is because they still have the mindset of the 19th century. Women being able to come and go as they please is a liberating movement that needs to progress as soon as possible and as quickly as possible!

Submitted by Nick Castiblanco on

This article was a great read, i love the way women are taking over and doing things that before were considered out of their reach. Amanda was able to experience how good a community can be when she visited the Netherlands and now she wants to make a change in her home town. I would love to see this introduction of biking lanes into such a crowded city. It would bring more stability and calmness to it and maybe attract tourism! who knows.

Submitted by Hamza Mir on

Change for the better is always appreciated. When someone is that determined to help a city expand their potential, it's very admiring. Having more bicycles will impact the amount of cars on the streets which would decrease traffic jams. More people should have ambitions to make their community a better place.

Submitted by Jin Ming Chen on

I really enjoy reading this article. Bicycling is really important for woman's right! It is a really good tool for women to get together and it will organize the country giving them more space.

Submitted by Jacob Munson on

The traffic conditions in the capital city of Uganda are terrible. A female city planner who experienced Amsterdam and all the bicycles moving about freely, decided that this would be the solution to their triubles. Not only will it help alleviate their traffic, but it encourages a safer city for everyone and especially the women. There's also a 15 minute documentary "Cycologic" that you would enjoy!

Submitted by Fatima Khan on

This is a great story of how people can come together with passion and do something amazing. By making this documentary and bringing light to the issue, viewers of the documentary like myself can really see how a simple machine like a bicycle can provide people (in this case, especially women) with a healthy and efficient means of independence and empowerment. Lovely story

Submitted by Kristian Bonilla on

We all are equal. Women can do the same things as men. In this article shows one of the ways to express how women have the same right as men. However; bicycles should have their own lanes to make easy for anyone in those countries in Africa. Let's rise our voices! Support women all around the world.

Submitted by Salim Addrey on

This is a very solid article about using the bicycle as an instrument of change. It's great to know that in the least expected places, women are taking steps toward empowerment. Maybe this ideology can be applied to other sports and devices as well...

Submitted by Rosette on

I am so impressed to see women drive a bicycle. I think this is a sign of courage. Also, bicycle is not for a poor people it is for being independent.

Submitted by Mariam on

I love this article. I come from Nigeria and it's so similar to Uganda and the whole idea of seeing women becoming more independent through riding a bike is amazing. I hope this idea is a success and is oneday expanded throughout the whole continent.

Submitted by Andrea Aramayo on

This article is very powerful and touching. It makes people realize the power of women and bicycles can have on the world. Bicycles will not only help clear up traffic jam but it will also help with other factors in Uganda.

Submitted by Sophia Abdelkadir on

This story gives me great hope for the future of women's influence and contribution to the world. Amanda's project of implementing bicycle lanes in Uganda is a good start for the increasing importance of women in the still developing world as well as an inspiration even in the already well developed world.

Submitted by Keita Takeda on

cycling is a good mode of transportation in a city because it can free up space cars take up on the road, reducing traffic jams. Bike lanes already exist in other cities. Why shouldn't Kampala have them? Bikes are seen as a nuisance there, but other than the transportation benefits, it's seen as a way for freedom for women. This will be a start to get women more productive members of society.

Submitted by Jin Oh on

This article describes what the city needs in order to have a functioning traffic. Also it is great how Amanda, a teacher and a cycling coach for the Capital of Uganda to take stand to help fix the traffic control in the city. Not this will only help the city itself but it will help the people's awareness of getting into accidents.

Submitted by Zoha Tariq on

This article, the film and the overall story is eye-opening while the message is very powerful. Growing up in America in the 21st century, a bicycle is such a trivial tool that most of us choose cars or public transportation over it every day. It is something I grew up enjoying taking rides on but never had to deal with issues of feminism, sexism and harrasment. It is shocking that in Uganada, and many parts of the world, women are discouraged to ride bicycles. As if they are not equals of men in every sense of the word. Nations like these need direction from leaders to develop the mindset of the people and move forward with the time and the world. I hope this amazing project is successful. The film was certainly very successful in delivering this important message to the viewers: empower women and you can change the conditions of the world in ways you haven't imagined.

Submitted by Herwina Allyssa on

It has never crossed my mind that the bicycle is a gateway for mobility and freedom of women, but it makes a lot of sense. After reading the article and watching the film, it made me realize that many others do not enjoy the same rights and freedom. The part where Amanda Ngabirano mentions that in Uganda, seeing a woman riding a bicycle is a sign of courage and fearlessness rather a sign of safe streets is a sign of the different levels of progresses of women's rights in different parts of the world.

Submitted by Iliana Rodriguez on

I think this is a great idea that a woman is trying to make such a big impact on her community. Usually in some underdeveloped countries, a woman's voice is not heard. So for her to want to make a big change for Kampala is huge. Bikes are a great way to move around at a relatively cheap cost. They cut down on pollution, they help with your health and they're much easier to navigate than standard cars and they're faster than simply walking. Amanda seems like a very educated woman who seems to have done her research and knows that this will be beneficial for her community although some are opposed to her proposal. If this happens, it will help Kampala tremendously and will lead them to become a more modern country like some first-world countries.

Submitted by Yann NDouffou on

Je pense que le velo est tres utile. Il a un grand nombre davantages. Non seulement il est peu couteux et en plus il contribue a garder notre environement sain sans le grand mal que procure l'usage des engins poluants. Encore en Afrique rouler en velo nous demarque de l'Occident. C'a fait un plus d'innovation. On parait avoir le style Anglais des temps anciens.

Submitted by Sudipa Mustafi on

I really hope this project succeeds because it'll be proof to naysayers all over the world that all good ideas must be given a chance. Pushing for bicyle friendly cities not only helps with traffic congestion and air pollution but will also help improve the health of the riders. But the most striking comment for me was "Seeing a woman riding a bicycle should not be seen as a sign of courage and fearlessness, but rather a sign of safe streets". A society that is safe for all is a living society.

Submitted by Geoffroy on

power has to be given to women. They have usually taking apart from decisions making and other things.

Submitted by Shayan Rafiei on

I really enjoyed of reading this amazing article, and watching this short film. The story is incredible cause you see these women trying so hard in their country to encourage people for using bicycles in their daily life. By doing this action in their country they can bring more freedom for all women in Uganda.

Submitted by Yeliz Gedik on

Bicycles and organized bike lanes are the sign in a city for safety,freedom,healthy life, joy, well communication and connection. I call a city developed if it has the bikes and the lanes not the high rises or the fastest and latest models of cars.I really appreciate these women trying to do their best in order to overcome difficulties and greed when it comes to choosing freedom instead of being slave of the so called developed world.

Submitted by Vinay Chavan on

Just wow this shows how powerful women are when they come together for a better cause. I would've never thought that a bicycle would mean so much to people. I'm happy that a simple transportation such as a bike brings these powerful women together to make a change. Amanda is bright and amazing for trying to improve her community. This is a perfect example of making do with not having much to make do with.

Submitted by Brenda Nalule on

I am pretty sure this will reduce the traffic woes in the city, Women can embrace the bikes if they are taught traffic rules as far as bikes are concerned. We pray the trend extends to Mpenjja Vulnerable Children & Single Mothers.

Submitted by Reena Mathunny on

Cycling is a wonderful means of transportation. It can save a lot of space and is healthy for individuals and also the population and environent

Submitted by Sam on

I like the idea of this. Bicycles, especially in countries that have crowded streets, can have a very positive impact. It promotes both a healthy lifestyle and makes commuting easier.

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