Made up of female Nigerian bikers, FBI is a group of women taking health awareness around the country, on two very fast wheels. The group’s members are on a mission, to permeate West Africa and teach women across the sub-region about health and hygiene.
Their name, however, and the emphasis on the term “female’ highlights the first challenge they must face, being female bikers in a society that perceives bike riding as too brash and risqué for an upstanding member of the fairer sex.
“Some people think all women who ride motorcycles are crazy but the truth is women who ride bikes are some of the sanest people in the one”, said one of the women riders.
However, the unwanted attention that comes from the novelty of seeing a female biker is often flipped to their advantage. In the right situation, it makes people gravitate towards them, not away.
Whenever the all-female Nigerian biker group D’Angels hit the streets, people would stare in amazement at the sight of women on motorbikes. So they made up their minds to use the attention for a good cause. They created the Female Bikers Initiative (FBI), which has already provided free breast and cervical cancer screening to 500 women in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos.
This August, D’Angels and another female biker group in Lagos, Amazon Motorcycle Club, plan to provide free screening to 5,000 women – a significant undertaking in a country where many lack access to proper healthcare.
Breast and cervical cancer are huge killers in Nigeria, accounting for half the 100,000 cancer deaths each year, according to the World Health Organization. Screening and early detection can dramatically cut the mortality rate for cervical cancer in particular.
Oncologist Omolola Salako, whose Lagos charity partnered with the FBI last year, says there is not enough awareness of the need for screening.
“Among the 600-plus women we have screened since October, about 60 percent were screened for the first time,” said Dr. Salako, executive director of Sebeccly Cancer Care. “It was the first time they were hearing about it.”
This year the women bikers will put on a week of awareness-raising and mobile screening, after which free screenings will be available at Sebeccly every Thursday for the rest of the year.
Members of the two clubs and any other female bikers who want to join in will ride through the streets, to schools, malls and other public places, distributing fliers and talking to women about the importance of screening.
In 2016 they launched Beyond Limits, a scheme to encourage young girls to fulfil their potential beyond societal expectations of marriage and babies. They travel to schools to give talks and invite senior women working in science, technology and innovation to take part.
Samuila formed D’Angels with 37-year-old Jeminat Olumegbon in 2009 after they were denied entry to the established, all-male bikers’ groups in Lagos.
“They didn’t want us. They were like, ‘No, women don’t do this. Women are used to being carried around. Why don’t you guys just be on the side-lines?’ That sort of pissed us off and we then went on to form our own club,” said Samuila.
In 2010, the pair rode from Lagos to the southern city of Port Harcourt to attend a bikers’ event, a 617-km (383-mile) trip that the men had told them was impossible for a woman. “That was the turning point in our relationship with the male bikers,” said Samuila. The two-day ride earned them a new respect from the male riders, some of whom now take part in the screening awareness programmes themselves.
In 2015 Olumegbon, also an FBI board member, took on an even bigger challenge riding 20,000 km through eight West African countries in 30 days to raise funds for children in orphanages.
“I’ve been riding since 2007. At first, I was the only female riding, then I found Nnenna and the other girls,” she said. “Because we started riding, more women decided to look inwards, and decided that they could do so as well.” The bikers plan to extend their initiative to other parts of Nigeria, and have also received invitations from women riders in other West African countries. For now though, they want to focus on making sure their efforts reach every woman in Lagos.
*Source: Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.