It is still uncommon to see women commercial motorcyclists in many African cities. In Bamako, Mali however women are not only commercial riders but every day women use motorcycles to go about their daily lives.
Although women biker groups and their leather clad, heavy boot wearing members are increasingly common, what is not yet common are everyday women riders. While the former are often adrenaline junkies who enjoy speed and adventure the latter are the majority of women on African streets.
The barriers for women riders are varied but mostly technical and mechanical. For starters the average seat height on a motorcycle is 800mm which is too high for some women, thus negatively impacting confidence when handling a bike. Similarly, the weight of a bike can be difficult for the average women to get off the ground should they lose their balance or wipe out.
Which brings up issues of safety and protective gear which is also unfortunately limited for women. Lady riders often end up riding in jackets with broad shoulders and longer-than-usual sleeves and have difficultly finding the right size of riding shoes and helmets.
All of these challenges have been overridden by everyday women in Mali. Thanks to an explosion in the importation of cheap Chinese motorbikes and the woeful state of public transport, women of all ages in Bamako make their way around the city on motorcycles on a daily basis. Dressed in African attire and casual clothes they zip through traffic in what is a common sight on Malian roads.
However, the New States Man reported in 2009 that, helmets are a rarity and illegally imported motorbikes without plates are easy to spot in Bamako’s motorcycle logjam. This disregard to safety is attributed to the cost of protective gear and claims that helmets can be asphyxiating in the 30 degree all year-round temperatures.
Despite all this the presence of everyday women riders is one we hope becomes normalised in more African cities.
Here are some pictures of them by Egyptian photographer Roger Anis.