Lahore’s Mall Road is no stranger to spectacles, but on Sunday, a special treat was in store for pedestrians as well as drivers as 150 women motorcyclists participated in a rally on the city’s busiest thoroughfare.

The ‘Women on Wheels’ project is the latest initiative of the Punjab government. The objective is to reclaim public spaces for women, create awareness about their rights as equal, entitled citizens and break stereotypes. Punjab’s Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif says he wants to see women actively participating in the public sphere in the role envisioned for them by the Quaid-e-Azam.

The participants of the rally were trained by a Special Monitoring Unit and the Punjab Traffic Police. They were cheered on by spectators and some public figures came to lend their support too. Austrian ambassador Brigitta Balaha was seen hitching a ride as was prominent lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jahangir, who asserted that “women’s empowerment is at the heart of the socio-economic progress of the country”.

The reaction to the rally on social media was a mixed one, with hurrahs as well as the usual criticism about perceived ‘immodesty’. Strange to note how women riding behind a man on a motorbike is considered acceptable by these critics but a woman driving a motorbike is condemned as indulging in a ‘shameless act’!

Since Shahbaz Sharif has succeeded in establishing himself as an enlightened ladies man now, perhaps it’s time Sindh CM Qaim Ali Shah also rises from his stupor to do something about reviving the true, cosmopolitan, no-gender-bar spirit of the city by the sea.