Women’s cycling has always been controversial in Afghanistan because of the freedom that bicycles offer. It is precisely this mobility that makes women’s cycling so important. In a country with high illiteracy, poor access to healthcare, lack of employment, and high rates of gender violence, cycling can allow women a means of transportation to attain education and enter the workforce. With bicycles, female teachers can reach rural schools where men are not allowed to teach adolescent girls, midwives can reach remote communities to prevent mortalities in childbirth, and girls can have a means of transportation to school.
A recent Human Rights Watch study states that Afghans perceive women’s cycling as a step above morality crimes like adultery. The act of cycling is so controversial that people throw rocks at female riders or try to run them off the road with their cars. However, women’s sports are gaining popularity in Afghanistan and are being televised regularly, including cycling. Mountain2Mountain’s goal is to normalize bikes for women through community outreach programs as well as by generating national pride around the success of the National Women’s Cycling Team. If the team can train and compete regularly, it will receive increasingly more attention and create opportunities for other women that traditional women’s rights work and activism cannot.
The young women who have chosen to cycle for the team are defying repressive tradition in a way that we can no longer conceive of in the West. This is defiance of social constraints on par with America’s first abolitionists, civil rights activists, and suffragettes. Sustained financial support is critical to drive this powerful human rights movement.
You can read more about the team, and our next steps on the Mountain2Mountain Field Notes blog from the recent trip to Kabul.
In addition, we were proud to help with the production of the upcoming Let Media documentary, Afghan Cycles, by filmmaker Sarah Menzies. This film documents the women of the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team. You can follow production and watch the trailer at www.afghancycles.com
photo credit: Claudia Lopez