Writing an open letter in the beginning of the year 2022 can almost be a non-starter, especially in the current context of another wave of Covid infections. At the same time it is difficult to hold back sharing some good news in the midst. Yes! After a year of consistent efforts by you, our donors, staff, supporters, volunteers and most importantly the women of #PowerThePedal, we have begun delivering the first 500 bicycles. We aim to eventually reach 5000 cycles and build a strong, proud cycling community of women to then rightly share the streets with other commuters. This number of women cyclists may not be much but change in culture and behavior often has humble beginnings. The year 2021 was not easy, but despite the pandemic and numerous other challenges, the resilience and willpower of the women of #PowerThePedal has made this moment possible.

When we started putting our ideas to action early last year, we had many doubts and questions. We knew that if our cities had to become sustainable, it should start by becoming accessible to all. In Delhi for instance, studies show that cars and two-wheelers use up more than 75% of the road space, but meet only 20% of the city’s commuting needs. Added to that, despite 20% of the city’s land area being dedicated to roads, and just a quarter of the population owning cars, the city is constantly battling traffic jams. And yet, to solve the traffic problem we build more flyovers, elevated corridors or multi-lane highways further encouraging private transport. Not only is our infrastructure counter productive, but has also excluded the masses.

Our partnership with urban communities of women labourers has been a huge learning and inspiration for us.  With unmatched grit and enthusiasm, hundreds of women from Bengaluru and Delhi have worked with us at every stage. We started by testing cycles with a small study group of around 25 women. Their feedback was then analysed to understand the features needed in the cycle model that we were going to source. Unfortunately, we realised that most companies DO NOT manufacture geared cycles to suit the needs of the Indian woman wearing Indian attire. That was a revelation on the extent to which this community was excluded from the mobility map. But before it got too difficult, Hero Cycles agreed to design and manufacture cycles for #PowerThePedal to meet the women’s needs.

Cycle training workshops were conducted with the help of our allies Bangalore Bicycle School, Samadhan Abhiyan, Environomic trust, Delhi’s Bicycle Mayor Mr Dalip Singh, Ms Anjali from Delhi Women’s Commission, Urban Planner Ms Sonali Shah, Council for Active Mobility and There Is No Earth B. The women, many of whom never had the chance to cycle, worked with us week-after-week to learn to ride and maintain the cycles. It has been an inspiring experience for us to watch the women challenge gender and socio-economic barriers!

Today, after nearly 10 months since we first started the project, the cycles are reaching their destination. We are excited in this journey for change. In the next phase of our campaign, we will be working with these women of fortitude to build a case for citizens that struggle to commute, find difficulties in breathing the polluted air in our cities and have struggled because of exclusion to build just and green cities . The women of #PowerThePedal inspire all of us to take up the challenge of climate change. So make way, for the humble cycle is here to stay!

Binu Jacob
Executive Director
Greenpeace India