What If Girls Rode Bikes?

What if more girls, particularly more Chilenas, rode bicycles? The question and the answer began in Santiago, Chile. Two activists asked themselves, “How can we change girls’ lives?” Their answer was simple and profound; with bicycles.

María Paz Castillo and Fernanda Martínez worked together in 2018 to kick off a Santiago Cycling Event for Girls and Women called La cicletada de las niñas (Girls’ Bike Rally). The two women had experience creating organizations directed at helping women gain independence and confidence; María Paz founded Comunidad Viajar Sola (She Travels Alone Community) and Fernanda Martínez started the Ciclistas Sueltas (Free Women Cyclists).

Their latest rally, or Cicletada de las niñas, was Sunday, January 12. The event included workshops on bicycle repair, presentations on safety, a three kilometer bike ride and a picnic. However, the conservative Chilean newspapers hadn’t written a word about it. I communicated with one of the organizers yesterday on the Cicletada de las niñas Facebook page to ask about the rally. In their video post, it looked like there were hundreds of participants.  María Paz graciously responded,  reporting that 200-300 women and girls participated! I was excited to hear of their success. I can imagine the cyclists will never forget their feelings of freedom and pride on their Cicletada de las niñas big city ride.

Cicletada de niñas, 12 January, Santiago de Chile  Photo: elmundodepax

María Paz and Fernanda have a vision to empower girls to be self-sufficient, confident, and independent. Too often girls are sheltered to such a great degree that they are unable to become active members of society. Encouraged to stay dependent, girls don’t believe in themselves enough to make it on their own. That is true the world over, not just in Chile and Latin America.

What’s the big deal about girls on bikes? Often girls are not allowed out their front door by themselves; preventing them from feeling active, important, and entitled to make decisions. That shut-down feeling is how many girls live each day. Here’s a list of nine ways bikes can transform the lives of girls and women:

  1. Transportation (inexpensive after the initial investment)
  2. Independence
  3. Positive Body Image
  4. Confidence (physical and psychological)(Agent of her own destiny)
  5. Spatial development (plan of the city in her head)
  6. Cognitive development (making plans, executive function)
  7. Social network of cyclists
  8. More secure future (transportation, education)
  9. Better air quality (lower carbon emissions)

The ability to choose a destination and go is a game changer, especially for women and girls. Personal freedom and exercising choice prepare them for positive futures. Their newfound confidence helps them claim public space as their own. The city and streets also belong to women and girls.

When I was in Chile for a year, men pedaled the streets making their deliveries on triciclos chilenos (three-wheeled utility bikes) and boys zoomed around on bikes every day. Yet, I saw only a handful of women and girls on bicycles in the full thirteen months.

I admire the thinking that went into the Chilean Girls’ Bike Rally project. Emancipating girls by giving them the experience of riding a bike is an excellent way to start them on the road of life. Once they have their own wheels, they have transportation to go to school. Armed with confidence, they’re less likely to fall into abusive relationships. Empowered girls can see themselves planning a future, deciding a career and participating in democracy.

Let’s test the theory. I was lucky enough to ride a bike throughout my childhood. We lived near the dedicated cycling paths that make Minneapolis a great place to live. In Elementary school and in college, my bicycle was my main form of transportation. I still bike three seasons of the year here in Madison. That way I lower my carbon emissions, get exercise and have an enjoyable commute. I draw the line at freezing temperatures and snow, like we have right now. I believe cycling was one underpinning that put me on the path to be the creative, independent person, earth loving person I am.

That is why biciactivista (bikeactivist) is my new favorite Spanish word!!

Cicletada de las niñas timeline of events:

  1. September 2018: first rally at the Santiago Festival Urbano #ohStgo
  2. April 2019: Quito, Ecuador
  3. October 2019: Chilean State of Emergency – Cicletada cancelled in Santiago
    La Cicletada Internacional; feminist cycling event celebrated in Latin America and the Caribbean; Lima, Quito, Ciudad de México, Mérida, Monterrey
  4. January 2020: Cicletada de las niñas in Santiago
  5. Next: A Girls’ Bike Rally coming soon to a street near you?

Do you prefer walking or bicycling?

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco! ¡Olé! -Rebecca

Fake Flamenco exclusive, inspired by an elciudadano.com post.

Para leer este artículo en castellano, haz un clic aquí.

See more photos:  https://www.instagram.com/cicletadadelasninas/

María Paz Castillo and Fernanda Martínez in Santiago  Photo: www.revistapedalea.com
Rebecca Cuningham

24 thoughts on “What If Girls Rode Bikes?

  1. It is always interesting to see the power of simple accessible opportunities when they are activated. . The first step out of poverty is affordable transportation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Way to go, Chile! Growing up in Guyana, I was also lucky to get around using a bicycle. In those days, it was the way working class Guyanese moved about. It was too dangerous to ride a bicycle on the streets of Fortaleza, Northeast Brazil, where motorists acted like they owned the roadways.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I support that initiative, that great idea, that way of looking at life, 100%!!! Anything that can empower girls from youth is a positive value for the society and eventually for all the world. Bicycling is a wonderful way to get around. Here in Europe it is quite popular, not only for fun but for practical purposes of transportation. Valencia has bike routes all over the city. You can safely ride anywhere you want, sharing your cycle route only with the electric patinetes (I don’t know its name in English). Lovely post, very interesting and informative and a great way to share and extend this great idea that those two chilenas came up with. All the best, Rebecca, have a lovely weekend and my greetings from Spain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comments Francisco. I love how these two chilenas are making a difference in girls lives. Glad to hear Valencia is so bike friendly. Would the patinetes be electric skateboards or scooters?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They’re like the ones you stand with one foot you push and hold the handle/steering but electric…


      2. Yes, I’ve seen those too…ok scooters, they are very popular in Valencia, in some other places they have discouraged their use as people may not have been as careful and perhaps had hit pedestrians like a case in Galicia, I think, where a careless man in a scooter hit an elderly lady and then just left her there on the floor, it was captured on video but his face was not visible, lamentably…All the best Rebecca and greetings from Valencia,

        Liked by 1 person

      3. As they are in Sevilla…in Valencia there are many bike paths and people are very respectful here of the rights of pedestrians, cyclists, scooters and automobiles, thank God!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Great to hear about the bike paths in Valencia and the respectful drivers. In Madison we have bike paths and a bicycle boulevard. We are fortunate to live on the bicycle boulevard. We see whole families biking by our front window on the weekends. I’d say we see an almost equal number of men and women commuting to work weekdays.

        Liked by 2 people

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