Back in 1991 I studied Human Geography, spending too much time with my books. I wanted to do something practical and meaningful next to my studies. I bumped into an interesting advertisement. The Centre for Immigrant Women in my city was looking for volunteers for a cycle training course. I applied and together with other volunteers I started to train women from all over the world. I had no idea how much I would learn from this job!
“The freedom is very important for the women. Many things are connected to cycle training. You are in contact with Dutch women, you can exchange ideas, you are active and outdoors, you learn the Dutch language. All things are connected with it. It is not only going back and forth!” (quote from Lisa, a community worker in the Netherlands)
Through working with women that had been brought up in other countries I learned to see that we have a unique cycling culture in the Netherlands. And because we used the cycle training as an empowerment tool – and not as an aim in itself – it was possible to get insights into the barriers women experience in many places in the world. It also gave me the opportunity to work collaboratively with them on methods that helped them to overcome these constraints.
In this proposed podium discussion at Velo-city 2013 I want to share the most important lessons I have learned in my work with immigrant and refugee women in the Netherlands over the last 20 years. Added with several years of collaboration with women who have set up cycling schools for women in different countries.
The lessons are not only interesting in it self. It is also important to reflect on the lessons and discuss how the topics raised can be useful elsewhere.
“It is very important to receive a certificate after the course. For all the effort it has cost you. It makes you feel different. I felt less than others, because I could not cycle, now I am very happy, a different person. I thought I could not learn to ride a bicycle. But it is never too late; everybody can learn to cycle!” (quote from Karima, cycle training participant)