Biking to Prosperity with guest blogger Betsy Teutsch

Betsy Teutsch
When I first started gathering 100 tools for empowering global women, which became my book 100 Under $100, I thought mostly of stationary, hand-held tools like solar lanterns and maize shellers. Things that save women time due to increased efficiency or lower expenses (or both); smart ways to accelerate women’s climbs out of extreme poverty.

 

Gradually, though, I expanded my definition of tool. The more I read, and the more pictures I saw of women burdened by childcare duties and heavy head-loads, the more I became aware of the lack of transportation as one of the huge bottlenecks for women’s empowerment. How productive can women be when they need to drag everything on foot?

Enter bicycles. Where I live, most bikers are in it for the recreational/exercise angle. When I learned of the impacts of bikes on women living in low-resource regions, I was über excited. Bikes save a huge amount of time; women are not substituting them for driving, but rather for walking – bikes get you to your destination four times faster! 

Hans Rosling of GapMinder has produced a beautiful video that illustrates this bicycle effect for smallholder farmers who, when they have wheels, can get more produce to market, faster, and bring seeds and inputs home the same way. This adds up to improved food security and greater likelihood a family’s children can go to school.

Siem Reap, Cambodia - Richard EllaBikes help women transport goods, or even other people. Again, they are not substitutes for cars in the developing world; they substitute for headloading or hand carrying. A bike can carry five times what a woman can handle on foot.

Bikes have interesting unanticipated consequences when provided to school girls. Schools are often far away from children’s homes, and school buses are non-existent. We have heard of stories where ‘sugar daddies’ fill the transportation void, driving girls to to school. Payment is often in transactional sex. A bike distribution project which provided school girls bikes in Togo documented a drop in pregnancies; the girls did not need rides anymore!

Another of my delightful discoveries is how resourceful women use bikes as the basis for mini-stalls. They transport, say, flowers laden on their bikes from their supplier to where they sell. When they arrive, they set they attach shelves to their bike and voila! A flower stand.

Ultimately my book has a double-spread page featuring bikes, empowering girls and women around the world!

100 Under $100: One Hundred Tools for Empowering Global Women which features Re~Cycle is available via Amazon in both the US and Great Britain.