Cycling is normal in the Netherlands but not to the same extent in every community. Many immigrants come to the Netherlands from countries where cycling is not a common mode of transportation. Although not everyone learns to ride a bike in childhood, it does not mean they are uninterested. In fact, this is how Mobycon Consultant Angela van der Kloof became involved in Amsterdam Zuidoost (Southeast), a district of the capital where cycling has typically lagged.
In 2009, Angela trained Agatha Frimpong – an immigrant woman from Ghana and prominent member of that community – in how to teach others to cycle. Agatha was inspired to help women in her community live more active lives after she lost a friend due to heart disease. Although Agatha was adamant about taking action, she was not sure exactly how to be effective. Happily, she found good partners through a neighbourhood project aimed at reducing poverty, Promising Southeast and Angela who has more than 20 years experience teaching immigrant women to cycle.
Five years after participating in Angela’s train-the-trainer course, Mama Agatha’s lessons have proved so inspiring, she is now the subject of a film written and directed by Fadi Hindash and produced by Marek Jancovic, watch the trailer here.
Although cycling lessons have been offered to immigrant women in the Netherlands since the 1970s, not enough research has focused on how effective these lessons are at reducing mobility inequality. Recently, Angela wrote one of the only scientific papers on the subject with Jeroen Bastiaanssen and Karel Martens both from Radboud University. The article is available here. Angela has also spoken extensively about her experience using the bicycle as a tool for social inclusion, including recent presentations at the Women’s Issues in Transportation Conference in Paris, France in April 2014 and Velo-City Vienna in 2013.
Recently, Angela has been working with Mama Agatha again observing cycling lessons to help Agatha continue developing her teaching skills and grow the project in Amsterdam Zuidoost. We look forward to sharing more about their current collaboration soon.
For now, we wish to share the English translation of a recently published article about Mama Agatha and the role bicycle lessons are playing in the lives of immigrant women in the Netherlands. The article by Karin Broer was published in Vogelvrije Fietser (Magazine of the Dutch Cyclists’ Union).
For more information about Angela’s work in this area, please contact her directly.
“We moeten meer bewegen – de fietslessens van Mama Agatha” (“We have to move more – Mama Agatha’s Cycling Lessons”)
by Karin Broer, translated by Mobycon
The bike is cheap and gives freedom of movement. History has shown it can be an emancipating vehicle, as it was for the working class and first-wave feminists and now immigrant women in the Netherlands.
One afternoon last June, cycling lessons were being held in a gym and garage in Amsterdam. One by one the participants trickled in, including a 60-year-old named Indra Kalidien who is originally from British Guiana. Kalidien is afraid to fall, "But I want to learn, I want to learn it. My grandchildren can cycle,” she explained. She did not learn as a child but today she is trying. She steps carefully, feet on the ground. It is not easy. Kalidien is not feeling well. She has pain in her back. Agatha Frimpong runs along beside her, "Cycling is good for your health," she exclaims enthusiastically.
Frimpong, who everyone calls Mama Agatha, is originally from Ghana and teaches cycling lessons to other immigrant women. She explained the idea came when a well-known woman from the community died as a result of heart problems. “We have to move more. At the funeral I saw a man with a bicycle. Then I thought: we should go cycling. You can go running in the park, but this is better, everyone is cycling in the Netherlands. We have to go cycling.” She said.
Promising Southeast, a neighbourhood project aimed at poverty reduction, supported Agatha's initiative. In 2009, Agatha got a crash course in cycling lessons and since then, there has been growing interest. "Here in Southeast there are many single parents. They want bikes because everyone is cycling and it is also useful to bring children to school,” Agatha said.
Southeast is a neighbourhood built in the mid-twentieth century with enough space on the streets to accommodate both cars and cyclists. The environment is truly safe for all road users because of a combination of separated infrastructure and 30-kilometre zones.
Ilse Lachman, age 67, said that like other ladies, she will “ride to Ouderkerk or to Weesp or to my sister who lives far away since paid parking now costs 1.40 per hour.” When asked about biking to downtown, she said, "Oh no, it's much too busy."
The lessons last 10 weeks and cost 45 euros. The cost includes a new bicycle, which participants get if they attend all classes. Classes run extremely well, which is partly because of Agatha who knows many people in the neighbourhood, according to Doris Bolten of Promising Southeast. “The women who come usually find bikes scary. We get comments like ‘I'm afraid of heights,’ cycling is perceived as very exciting," she said.
The bike classes have several objectives, according to Bolten. One is financial as the bike is cheaper than public transport and the illegal taxis commonly-used in the neighbourhood. Other objectives include promoting health, exercise and social inclusion. The bike can also be an interesting tool for integration. "Parents can thus bring their children to school, as is usual in the Netherlands,” said Bolten.
Bike lessons have been given to immigrant women since the 1970s. The lessons are usually organized by welfare organizations and supported on a project basis by municipalities. The offer is often fragmented. In 2009, Consultancy Mobycon counted 18 organizations in Amsterdam that offered bike classes at 23 locations, to a total of 1,500 women. Their research also found, 40 percent of the teachers had never been through a train-the-trainer course.
The fact that bike lessons are still offered - even in a political climate where every special expenditure for immigrants is considered one too many - shows there is demand. Immigrant women are keen to cycle. They see the potential of cycling. Everyone does it, and facilities include bike paths. The traffic is relatively safe.
The bike literally offers freedom of movement. With a bike, you can go to school, to work and accomplish three errands in the time it would otherwise take to accomplish one. The bike offers the opportunity to expand your activity pattern at a very low cost.
In the past, the bike was an emancipating vehicle for the working class. Around 1910, when the bike became affordable to the working class, it allowed people to take jobs just a little further away. The mobility strengthened their position and gave them more opportunities. At the end of the nineteenth century, upper-class women eagerly embraced the bicycle. It gave women more freedom of movement, and they could change their clothes. It was the end of corsets and the beginning of pants or at least (cycling) pants for women.
Can the bike play that role for immigrant women? What happens to the lives of women after they learn to ride a bike? Hardly any research has been done in the Netherlands on the effect cycling lessons have on the lives of immigrant women. Recently, one of the few scientific articles on the subject was published by Angela van der Kloof of Mobycon together with Jeroen Bastiaanssen and Karel Martens both from Radboud University. Their article discussed the little material that is currently available about the extent to which cycling lessons can fight inequality in mobility. Available material included a survey of bike course participants from Amsterdam New West and a limited number of in-depth interviews in Amsterdam. Are women more active after participating in cycling lessons? The researchers could not prove this with the material available. The difference between the ability to ride a bike and the ability to use it in traffic is huge. Moreover, it appears that the time and money women save from using the bicycle does not go directly into other activities. "The time gains are invested into the family and the household" according to the study. Still, one of the authors Angela van der Kloof said, “This study is a first start, a much larger survey of trainees should be done. From my experience as a bike trainer, I know cycling makes a huge difference in the lives of the women who really appropriate the bike. Really appropriating means they not only have the skills to ride, but also feel at ease in traffic. "
Is the bicycle more popular among immigrant women? That is hard to say. There is no recent research. The studies on bicycle use by Lucas Harms from the University of Amsterdam emphasise that immigrants cycle less than natives. While bicycle use in the city of Amsterdam has increased dramatically, bicycle use remains more or less unchanged in districts like New West where there is a large concentration of immigrants, noted Harms.
We often read that immigrants cycle less or do not like cycling. In an article appearing in this magazine, blogger David Hembrow pointed out this blind spot in the Dutch perspective. While Turkish and Moroccan people living in the Netherlands may cycle less than native Dutch people, they are still cycling a lot compared with people in their home countries or other Turkish and Moroccan people living in European countries, such as Germany and Belgium.
Maybe this supports the argument that cycling is popular among immigrant women. Van der Kloof, Bastiaanssen and Martens analysed 2012 figures from the Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics and came to the conclusion that non-Western women made nearly 20 percent of the trips by bike. While this may be less than the 30 percent share of bike trips made by native-born Dutch women, immigrant women in the Netherlands are still making many more bike trips than the European average. The Rotterdam Omnibus survey this year showed that bicycle ownership is steadily increasing among ethnic minorities from 46 percent in 2001 to 60 percent today.
A new trend is taking hold. The bike – status symbol among upper-income, highly-educated urbanites – is becoming popular among other groups.
Mama Agatha is now the subject of a film made by Fadi Hindash and Marek Jancovic, watch the trailer here.