A modest price for a modest ride

After forbidding women from riding motorcycle taxis in Kano, Nigeria, the government has come up with a more modest alternative.

Published March 27, 2007 2:03PM (EDT)

South Africa's News24.com reports that in the northern Nigerian city of Kano, a new fleet of yellow motorized rickshaws have hit the streets, decorated with a slogan that says, "Be Pious." And guess what? They're targeted toward women.

Yup. As the article puts it, "The motorized rickshaws embody a struggle across the north to reconcile a strict interpretation of a foreign religion with Nigeria's culture and secular constitution -- and the quotidian realities of African poverty." It continues: "Keeping women behind doors and out of sight, or cloaking them in fabric, is a foreign idea in Nigeria, where women play leading roles in economic life."

Too bad, then, that the state government ruled that women shouldn't be allowed to ride on motorcycle taxis -- apparently one of the cheapest and fastest modes of transportation in Kano -- because it required women to grab on to the male drivers. Um, OK. Except that left Kano's women, who turn out to make up 60 percent of Kano's commuters, without any way to get around.

Enter the motorized tricycles. Subsidized by the government, they're currently even cheaper than the motorcycle taxis, and feature an attractive wraparound black plastic curtain that shields them from male eyes.

Personally, I'm happy that I don't have to press up against a stranger every time I want to get across town. But if motorcycles were the only way to travel, I'd be pretty pissed off if the government decided that I wasn't allowed to ride on them, just because I was a woman. It's great that the rickshaws are cheap, but in a city of 2 million people, a fleet of 500 (with another 1,000 soon to be added) doesn't sound like it's going to go too far. Then again, compared to motorcycles, tricycles have a lot more room for bumper stickers. I can see it now: "I Brake for Women's Rights," "Honk If You Believe in Gender Equality" and everyone's favorite, "Get Your Religion Out of My Rickshaw."

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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