Women pedal for 'girl power' in Pakistan to mark International Women's Day

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - A group of determined women took to bikes on Friday, riding through the Pakistani capital to highlight their rights and love of exercise in a culture that often treats them as second-class citizens.

Some wearing helmets, others in headscarfs, dressed in jeans or in the loose dresses traditional in Pakistan, the group navigated the leafy streets with colourful balloons tied to their handlebars, past baffled police and security guards.

To mark International Women's Day in a country where women are rarely seen on a bike, they set out from Kohsar market, a collection of upmarket coffee shops, to the city's landmark Faisal Mosque set in the Margalla Hills.

"The point is that women have the right to ride a bicyle. We are just having girl power here," said charity worker Masoora Ali, 30.

"I remember when I was little, I used to ride a bicyle quite openly but... when I was growing up and I was at school or college, I was told not to do it publicly because it is not acceptable in society," she added.

Pakistan does not ban women riding bikes, but it is rare even in Islamabad where driving is less erratic than on the traffic-choked streets of the two biggest cities, Karachi and Lahore.