German Consulate extends support to the Lyari Girls Cafe

As a gesture of encouragement the German govt gifted 16 cycles to the cafe

Our Correspondent December 17, 2018

KARACHI: The German Consulate gifted 16 cycles to the Lyari Girls Café on Sunday.  The cycles were a gesture of support from the German government for the young cyclists of Lyari. Zulekha Dawood, a young activist and the head of girl cyclists in Lyari said that the Consulate has been encouraging Lyari Girls Café with moral support for the past year. The cycles came as a welcome gift as the club was in dire need. "The number of cyclists has been increasing but we had only 10 cycles," said Dawood.

Birgit Khilmann, the Deputy Head of Mission at the German Consulate, formally handed over the cycles and spent time with the cyclists in Lyari. They cycled together near the Custom House, Eduljee Dinshaw Road. "I am really happy that Lyari's girls are freely riding cycles without any fear," said Khilmann, adding that the German Consulate often encourages such healthy activities.

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Speaking to the media, Dawood said that the female cyclists have not only encouraged other girls and women to cycle freely on the streets but have also managed to motivate boys to use cycles as a mode of transportation. She pointed out, however, that the city's streets were not always conducive to the activity.

"There is no space for cyclists. Town planners must consider spaces for cyclists in their future planning. The number of cyclists is increasing with each passing day," she said. She expressed the hope that cyclists would soon replace motorcyclists.

Parents of the cyclists and others from Lyari were present on the occasion.

Uphill journey

The streets of Lyari are populated by men. You see them smoking, gossiping or playing games, either on the footpath or in small gaming arcades. The women can be spotted making their way through the narrow streets to Lyari Girls Café where they study and receive vocational training.

The peculiarly-named institute is set up on the fourth floor of a residential building and has a big rooftop, which is adorned with beautiful handicrafts and embroidered sheets. The place is also furnished with comfortable couches and has board games like carrom and ludo.The cafe doubles as a vocational training centre and a communal space for women and children of Lyari. While the managerial and support staff comprises entirely of women and many of its initiatives are geared towards women empowerment, the café offers education and activities for the boys of Lyari as well.

Lyari's 'Theatre of Dreams'

However, when the girls decided to take up cycling they faced severe backlash which included threats and harassment.

"The girls wanted to partake in activities, [for some] their families permitted as well, but society was restrictive," Rimsha Raheen, who was then associated with the organisation, had explained while speaking at a session titled 'Lyari Revisited' at the Sixth International Karachi Conference held at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) earlier this year. According to Raheen, they had faced aggression from the community as well but it did not deter them and their efforts encouraged others to benefit from the movement. "We adorned our scarves and went on our bikes," Raheen had said.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2018.


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