BFD, Anti-Racism, and Gender-Based Violence Prevention

Author: Jessica Nachman

As part of our Bicycles for Development (BFD) research, we are currently working on a project with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and persons of colour) and QTBIPOC (queer and transgender BIPOC) cyclists to explore how bicycles and BFD may be used to contribute to anti-racism and gender-based violence (GBV) prevention within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jess Nachman is the lead researcher on this project.

Previous work on BFD has shown how bicycles can: provide a safe and inclusive space for marginalized youth in urban areas; increase mobility and access to economic resources for refugee and immigrant women; and act as a development tool in the global South. Beyond developmental goals, literature on bicycle justice demonstrates the various ways in which the bicycle can be used for addressing systemic poverty, racism, and inequality more broadly. With this in mind, we should consider bicycles as a potential tool to address exacerbated systemic racism and GBV as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this blog post, we briefly look into the work that has been conducted in relation to bicycles, anti-racism, and GBV, to contextualize the work we are currently doing as part of our BFD research. 

BFD and Anti-Racism

Systemic racism, as well as pre-existing and related socio-economic inequalities of income, housing, food insecurity, etc., have been on the rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is thus an urgent need for anti-racist work in planning for (post-)pandemic recovery. BIPOC cyclists have historically been pushed out of White and upper-class areas of the city in North America. Governments and media typically privilege the needs of White cyclists to increase White ridership, while BIPOC cyclists’ perspectives are ignored within decision-making processes. In addition, BIPOC cyclists may be dangerously visible in public spaces, contributing to systemic issues such as racial profiling and risk of deportation that make cycling unsafe for BIPOC. The bicycle is therefore implicated in the systems of racial inequality that have inhibited BIPOC to move freely and safely across urban cities. 

At the same time, bicycling has been taken up by BIPOC cyclists to resist systems of racial power. As examples, cycling has been used for: safer and more empowering mobility for BIPOC who feel unsafe driving or walking; an educational tool to teach an area’s history of racism through bicycle tours; and creating community through community-based workshops

BFD and Gender-Based Violence Prevention

The role of bicycles and BFD programs in addressing GBV are particularly important since COVID-19 has created a de facto “shadow pandemic,” in which there has been increasing rates of violence against women and girls due to the strain on services that support those who are vulnerable to violence. Women and girls of colour as well as queer and transgender persons have been made increasingly vulnerable to violence. A response to the pandemic using a gender lens is thus urgently needed to focus on the specific risks and vulnerabilities women, girls and QT people face due to deeply entrenched inequalities that shape how people of all gender identities experience COVID-19

Previous feminist work has illuminated the bicycle as a potential source of empowerment for women. Many women have reported experiencing unsafe cycling experiences due to their gender, and that their experiences are vital to creating renewed cycling infrastructure. Women who cycle reported a heightened fear of experiencing GBV and harassment when cycling, due to their increased visibility. The bicycle is implicated in gender inequality and resulting GBV, and therefore BFD may be a useful space to challenge gender inequality while paving new lanes for safe transport and recreation in urban areas.  

BFD Research with BIPOC and QTBIPOC

BFD can provide an influential site to investigate and challenge the inequalities of GBV, systemic racism, COVID-19, and other socio-economic issues. Those involved with BFD, especially cyclists that inhabit marginalized identities that are traditionally absent from decision-making and planning, are vital to informing wider bicycle advocacy and policy. Several studies have echoed the need to amplify the perspectives of women, BIPOC, and other cyclists who inhabit marginalized identities to create safe and inclusive cycling spaces for all. This can be applied both within organizations implementing bicycle programming, as well as city spaces for cycling. Amplifying these voices may be especially important given the existing research on bicycles, anti-racism, and GBV.

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