How bicycles change women’s lives

On Saturday 9 August, South Africa celebrated National Women’s Day. In recognition of this, here’s how bicycles change women’s lives, and why that’s good for everyone:

reduce poverty

According to a report by the UN, of the world’s poorest people, 70% are women. Women own less titled land around the world than men. They also earn on average 25% less than men for the same work. Yet studies show that investing in women is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty.

As chief economist at the World Bank, Lawrence Summers wrote, “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest return investment available in the developing world.”  In a report titled What Works In Girls’ Education: Evidence and Policies from the Developing World, Gene Sperling, senior fellow for economic policy and director, Center for Universal Education, Council on Foreign Relations, writes something along the same lines: “What is just striking is the amount of hard, rigorous academic data that there is, not only about what girls’ education does in terms of returns for income, for growth, but in terms of health, AIDS prevention, empowerment of women, prevention of violence against women.”

66 million

At Qhubeka, we believe that investing in girls and women is investing in the future, which is why in our programmes, an average of 70% of bicycle recipients are women.

According to Pulitzer prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn in their book, Half the Sky: turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide, “Studies have indicated that when women hold assets or gain income, the money is more likely to be spent on nutrition, medicine and housing, and consequently their children are healthier. For every dollar a woman earns, she invests 80 cents in her family.”

In a Qhubeka waste recycling programme run in partnership with Wildlands Conservation Trust and Coca-Cola to empower women, participants earned Qhubeka Buffalo Bicycles by collecting PET bottles for recycling.

On receiving her bicycle, 62-year old Nobelungu Mnikathi proved to be a perfect example of a woman investing back into her family. She told us, “This bicycle is going to help my child when he goes to work, that will make him save some bus fare money.”

Her sentiments were echoed by many of the other women – most of them grandmothers – who planned to give the bicycles to their children or grandchildren. Others planned to use the bicycles to collect larger amounts of waste products to trade for more bicycles, which they then planned to sell. It was obvious that these hardworking women were concerned primarily with improving the lives of their families.

child marriage

Bicycles are also an enormously effective way to address the needs of school children in South Africa. 12 million of the country’s 16 million school-going children walk to and from school and 500 000 of these walk more than two hours to school and two hours back. With a Qhubeka Buffalo Bicycle, a child’s commute time is reduced by up to 75%.

1 in 3 girls

In our Bicycle Education Empowerment Programme (BEEP), run in partnership with World Vision SA, we mobilise school children with bicycles. Schools where children ride bicycles to class see attendance rates rise by 18% on average.

This is particularly important to girl students, when you consider that 53% of the world’s out-of-school children are girls and two thirds of the illiterate people in the world are women.[1] By mobilising girls with bicycles, Qhubeka hopes to help them to improve their attendance, their grades and their prospects.


As an example, take Katlego. At 13 years old, she runs a successful bicycle micro business and helps her family financially. She uses her Qhubeka Buffalo Bicycle to get to and from school, but has also earned five more bicycles through one of Qhubeka’s tree-growing projects, in partnership with Wildlands Conservation Trust. She hires these out to the local community and saves her profits for university tuition because she plans on becoming a chartered accountant when she finishes school.

In essence, when you help us to mobilise a woman with a bicycle, you also help to:

  • Fight poverty
  • Keep girls in school
  • Improve access to healthcare and economic opportunity
  • Give hope to a traditionally marginalised group of people

 This women’s month, support Qhubeka and help us to support women. Click here to make a donation towards mobilising a girl with a bicycle.

[1] Lacey, Christie. “A Worthy Investment.” Opportunity International. Accessed April 8, 2014.

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