MY father has four girls and until recently not one of us knew how to ride a bicycle. My earliest bicycle memory was being told by my father that we (my sisters and I) would fall and hurt ourselves and get bruised. And that was also his rationale for not allowing us in the kitchen, as we would cut ourselves or get burnt. Overprotective maybe? But I digress.
There is a viral video of Ms Shellysha McCarthy cycling her way to work in her professional attire, inclusive of heels. I think Ms McCarthy should be applauded for choosing a logical mode of transport whilst not compromising her female essence in the process. If you think about it, Ms McCarthy displayed an unconventional execution of the Jamaica Moves philosophy — which is to get moving. Unsurprisingly, in the video, as she pedals she is showered with pick up lines. Somehow, I doubt this is the experience of her male counterparts! Perhaps Jamaicans are not accustomed, for the lack of a better word, to adult, female riders. When it comes to 'his' and 'her' fitness, apparently some stereotypes still do prevail. Case in point, the top Jamaican female track athletes are on the tip of the tongue of most people. But who is the top Jamaican female cyclist? Perhaps a quick Google search would help.
My other memories of cycling in Jamaica include being a UWI student, sitting in the backseat of a taxi, uneasy, on my way to Coronation market on a Saturday, as the driver tried to navigate his way past a pack of cyclists with their support car in tow. Then as a new driver trying to manoeuvre my way past a group of riders in a pace line along the Bog Walk Gorge, as I travelled to the Linstead Hospital on Sundays. Both instances, I think, being a poor reflection of Jamaica's cycling infrastructure and regulation.
I didn't learn how to cycle until I was 26 years old, and it was just by happenstance. I have since ridden in cycling events in major UK cities including Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. I don't think my late exposure to physical activity is particularly unique. I have interacted with many women who neither know how to ride a bicycle, nor swim, compete in a marathon, etc. The cause for this? Academically girls are progressing but physically, perhaps not. The paradox of the gender gap?
Public health officials call for behaviour change as a means of reducing the prevalence of obesity in Jamaica. Yet the behaviour change that is required stretches far beyond indulging in physical activity; it needs to happen at the level of the collective Jamaican psyche. Case in point, rather than encourage actual physical activity such as road cycling, popular culture encourages women to mount the male appendage and ride it instead! I am sure most women would agree that whether women are on wheels or behind the wheel, there is always something to be said — and oftentimes it not positive.
Recent Pan American Health Organization statistics indicate that the burden of obesity in Jamaica is skewed in favour of women. Are new public health initiatives cognisant of this lopsided demographic? Does Jamaica consider itself a female, cycle-friendly society? That remains to be seen — perhaps in time to come. Jamaicans, especially women, should become unconventional in their thought processes and begin to actively seek out creative ways of exercising. As for our men, if you have a sister, mother, aunt or daughter, help her to get physical. Help her to move her body. Help her to work out daily.
Nicole Nation, a Jamaican Chevening scholar, is a medical doctor who completed a master's in public health at the University of Sheffield.