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10/14/2011

Biking as a tool of female empowerment

Alba
Alba Kunadu Sumprim says back in England, cycling was a key method of transport for her and part of her daily routine.


By Michelle Newlands

In Ghana's northern regions bicycles are used as a necessary means of transportation, but in the capital city of Accra, this is not the case. Cycling in the city can not only be dangerous, but attached to social stigmas - especially for women cyclists.

This is what Alba Kunadu Sumprim, along with 10 others, discovered as participants in the Woman on Bike workshop, which is also part of the Prêt-à-partager art exhibition.

The purpose of the workshop is to explore the limits and possibilities of bikes in an urban West African atmosphere with particular significance to biking as a tool of female empowerment.

Sumprim is a British-born Ghanaian and a participant in the workshop. Sumprim says back in England, cycling was a key method of transport for her and part of her daily routine. She has spent the past decade living in Ghana and says this workshop gave her the courage and confidence to get on a bike for the first time since her arrival 10 years ago.

“When I first started I was a little scared,” she says. “It's a matter of confidence... as I became more confident I realized it was my right to be on the road with everybody else.”

Sumprim says, based on her experience riding in the city, she has felt social discrimination as a female cyclist, stating one man she met while riding told her that as far as he was concerned, the only women who should be on bicycles are villagers, women from the north or foreigners, and Ghanaian women in Accra, should not be on bicycles.

“It is all about status - and riding a bike says that you are poor. That is the perception. I think there is also a gender thing, we have very typical ideas of what women can do and what women can't do,” Sumprim says.

This is the type of discrimination the workshop aims to eliminate. Sandrine Micosse-Aikins, co-creator of Prêt-à-partager art exhibition in collaboration with the German Institute of Foreign Cultural Relations, says the initiative is related to ideas of freedom and Pan African Empowerment.

As a German-Ghanaian, she says female empowerment is an important issue for her and feels biking is something people in the city aren't practicing and aren't claiming as their right.


“[It's] about promoting biking as a practice available for women, especially Ghanaian women,” Micosse-Aikins says.


The women involved in the workshop agree the perception of female cyclists in Accra and the discrimination towards them is not something that is going to vanish overnight. It is, however, something they believe they can work towards and plan to continue.


Zohra Opoku is a German-Ghanaian, avid cyclist, artist and coordinator of the Woman on Bike workshop. Opoku says this workshop is just the beginning and they have started to think of actions to strengthen their goal. It begins with public interaction, she says.


“In terms of empowerment it is something that has to grow,” Opuku says. “I think this is good. People will see more bikes on the streets because of our workshop.”


In addition to the empowerment associated with female riders, Sumprim states that although the workshop is focused on women and female empowerment, it has potential to extend into the greater community.


According to her, less traffic congestion, decreased pollution, lower economic demand for oil and overall health and fitness are benefits of the cycling initiative.


“It is Woman on Bike because it is a novelty, but society in general can be empowered... it is actually a huge thing for society as a whole,” Sumprim says.

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