Everyone loves this Susan B. Anthony quote: “I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”
We tend to think of the connection between bicycles and feminism as a historical thing. See my post about the anti-bike backlash of the late 1800s here: Bicycles: Making good women go bad since the 1800s.
However, bicycles are still playing a role in improving the lives of girls and women all over the world. See, for example, Will bike riding in Saudi Arabia change the way women dress? October is bike to school day/month in many parts of the world where the choice is between biking and getting a drive from parents. But in many other parts of the world it’s the possession of a bicycle that makes getting to school possible at all.
Thanks to reader and business ethics blogger Chris MacDonald for sharing this academic paper with us, “Cycling to School: Increasing Secondary School Enrollment for Girls in India,” by Karthik Muralidharan and Nishith Prakash. (A University of California at San Diego NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH Working Paper, http://econ.ucsd.edu/~kamurali/papers/Working%20Papers/Cycling%20to%20School%20%28NBER%20WP%2019305%29.pdf)
What is the challenge with keeping girls in school? In rural India many, about half, of the girls drop out midway through their education. Although school is free, transport costs deter rural families from sending girls to school. Bikes make education possible for girls who would otherwise have to leave school. Charitable programs like Give a Girl a Bike aim to provide bikes and improve educational opportunities for girls in rural India.
“Bikes for girls” programs sound great. But do they work?
Yes, according to research conducted by Muralidharan and Prakash. “We find that the Cycle program was much more cost effective at increasing girls’ enrolment than comparable conditional cash transfer programs in South Asia, suggesting that the coordinated provision of bicycles to girls may have generated externalities beyond the cash value of the program, including improved safety from girls cycling to school in groups, and changes in patriarchal social norms that proscribed female mobility outside the village, which inhibited female secondary school participation.”