08 March 2016

In Motion On International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day

As I've mentioned in other posts, early feminists saw the bicycle as a vehicle, if you will, of emancipation.  "Let me tell you what I think of bicycling," Susan B. Anthony intoned.  "I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world."  She explained, "It has given women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance."

She would especially appreciate the images of Women In Motion posted on World Bicycle Relief's site. 

World Bicycle Relief is, in its own words, "mobilizing people through the power of bicycles."  In doing so, according to the organization's website, "We envision a world where distance is no longer a barrier to education, healthcare and economic opportunity."

To that end, WBR manufactures its own bicycles under the "Buffalo" brand in Africa, and has them assembled by mechanics in the locales in which the bicycles are distributed.  WBR trains those mechanics, as well as others who are involved in the production and distribution of those bicycles.  Recently, their wholly owned subsidiary, Buffalo Bicycles Ltd., has begun to sell bikes to non-governmental organizations, corporations and individuals in need of affordable, sustainable transportation.

Universe (yes, that's her name) uses her bicycle to bring the vegetables she grows and the foods she bakes to a market where she sells them.

WBR has work-to-own and study-to-own programs for those who cannot purchase a bicycle outright.  As you might imagine, those programs benefit women and girls particularly because--especially in areas like rural Africa--they have little or no money and limited (or, again, no) access to the networks that would help them get credit to start businesses or other resources needed to get paid employment, go to school or simply to take better care of their families--or themselves.

Kesia is a health-care volunteer who works with victims of HIV, sexually-transmitted diseases and gender-based violence. Because of the long distances she must travel, she used to meet only four clients a day.  Now, with her bicycle, she can meet as many as 75.

That WBR manufactures, assembles and distributes locally--and trains people to do so, as well as mechanics--is also a major benefit to women, who often can't travel very far from their farms, villages or families to obtain an education or employment, let alone a bike.  It also, naturally, makes it easier for women and girls to obtain bicycles, which in turn gives them the mobility that affords them access to a greater range of educational, business and other opportunities.

Georgina, a 68-year-old widow, uses her bicycle to carry milk from her farm to a collection center 12 km away.

No less than Barron's financial magazine has lauded F.K. Day, WBR's founder and president, as one the most effective philanthropists.  While WBR doesn't bill itself as dedicated exclusively, or even primarily, to women and girls, it's hard not to notice the particular impact their programs have on women and girls, especially those in the most difficult circumstances.

I am sure that, were she alive today, Ms. Anthony would point to the organization and its programs as one of the prime examples of what she meant, especially what she said about self-reliance.

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