Inequities perpetuated by social norms and the perception that things are as they are the way they are because that is the way they are meant to be. Challenging those norms can be immensely difficult or the most logical course of action for different individuals and Sabia Abbat is one such person who grew up with a passion for cycling and was not stopped by the perception that cycling is not something women in Pakistan do.
Born and bred in Haripur, Sabia became the first woman from the Hazara division to win the National Cycling Championship in 2013. Part of her confidence and support came from an immensely supportive family which encouraged her. Being a sports enthusiast at college where she represented the institution in various competitions helped. Then too, her character – determined, curious and ambitious – helped! She saw a cycling competition in 2011 in Pania where the women could barely ride bikes and decided that this was a skill she wanted to learn.
As activities go, riding a cycle is not the easiest of skills, particularly in a society where women rarely even own cycles and certainly do not ride them around town. Back home, in Haripur, she practiced on her uncle’s cycle, fell a lot but kept at it.
Cycling competitively is also prohibitively expensive as an average professional bicycle costs more that Rs. 150,000 and the bicycles used for track cycling are even more expensive. The bicycles used on velodromes or track cycling arenas are designed to maximise speed, reduce weight, and avoid sudden braking. Sabia thus, is reliant on the Federation for her equipment.
The cycling championship has nine events, six of which are held on a velodrome while three are on the road. Haripur has no facilities for training in cycling so for serious practice Sabia has to travel to Lahore.
Since 1996, when the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Cycling Association (KPCA) was formed, Sabia Abbat is the first woman to excel at the sport.
Susan B. Anthony, an American social reformer and feminist who played a pivotal role in the women’s suffrage movement more than a century ago, said, “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.” As a means of uncomplicated, inexpensive and environmentally friendly means of transport, the bicycle is unmatched and Sabia Abbat has brought the possibilty of women bicycling into the imagination of the country.
Today, Sabia holds a Bachelor’s degree in physical education. She has been a National Champion, an army athlete and an inspiration and her journey is far from over.
Muniba Mehmood – The writer is a marketing specialist.