Tour de Kabul

nsr2ItOAfghanistan is not an easy place to be a woman.

Indeed, though the situation is changing as the nation emerges from the Taliban era, today only 15% of women in Afghanistan are literate and only 37% of the nation’s grade school students are girls. Further, patriarchy is entrenched by laws that dictate that husbands can divorce their wives without her voice being heard and, of course, the cultural practice of women wearing burqas when out in public.  To put it mildly:

Male privilege dominates Afghan culture.

Which makes the story of the Afghan women’s national cycling team all the more incredible. Enjoy the the story, excerpted from this article:

Challenging the long- held cultural belief that a woman cycling is offensive, these dedicated young athletes are standing up to social norms and becoming vehicles of change. 

“Daily in Afghanistan, girls risk their lives to go to school, women risk their lives to work in government, the police forces, and even the army.  Women activists march in the streets to fight for their rights, knowing that they are making themselves targets,” says Shannon Galpin, currently producing a documentary film about the team.  “The women cyclists are doing something very simple that we take for granted, but making a huge statement in a country that doesn’t allow their women to ride bikes.” 

In Afghanistan, it is very rare to see a woman on a bike other than sitting sidesaddle behind a man.  According to Mountain2Mountain, there are currently only about 60 to 70 women cyclists in the entire country.  However, the newly created women’s team has around 12 members who are passionate about their sport and about changing the lives of women in their country.

Currently, the women on the team train once a week, due to safety concerns. Riding at the risk of their own lives, members of the team train in the back roads and highways outside Kabul.  They ride borrowed, donated, and scrapped-together road and sport bikes.  Their gear is mostly donated.  Their lone sponsor helps pay for their jerseys.  Despite opposition and social taboo, however, these women ride their bicycles as a statement of freedom.

In 1896, Susan B. Anthony, iconic American reformer said: ““The bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

Thankfully, step by step, this vision is becoming true in today’s Afghanistan.

In an NBC News piece here Shannon Galpin is quoted as saying: “If they are willing to take the risk, then the least we can do is support them.” Indeed. Let’s celebrate their story, and if you’d like to contribute to the cause you can do so here and here.

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