Home » Opinion » Commentary: Bicycling a sign of resilience, strength for Afghan women

Commentary: Bicycling a sign of resilience, strength for Afghan women

Afghani women line up to vote during the first democratic presidential election in Kabul, Afghanistan, Oct.9, 2004.

Afghani women line up to vote during the first democratic presidential election in Kabul, Afghanistan, Oct.9, 2004. Credit: Courtesy of MCT

The first time I felt both sophisticated and powerful was on my bicycle.

I was hooked after the first crash in my driveway and later became an employee at a bicycle shop near Cleveland. I was consumed with the pleasure that selling bikes, riding and racing gave me, but I was oblivious to individuals worldwide.

America has molded an industry out of biking that proclaims leisure, fitness and sport. Customers purchase bikes to accomplish goals such as organized rides, tours across the country or weight loss.

There are countless American-based organizations that promote the purchase of a bicycle to raise money for those who are in need of bikes in developing countries, such as the Kona Africa Bike Project.

These programs give bikes to doctors in Africa or students in India. Many Americans donate, but few understand how biking exists socially differently in those countries.

Afghan women, for example, have a long history of not being able to take part in athletics. Riding a bicycle is a bold move said Heidi Swift, a freelance writer and photographer, in her blog Grit and Glimmer, which is partially about women in the cycling industry.

“They do it as a statement — a very literal statement of freedom,” Swift said. “And now, they propose to do it as a sport.”

The hobby that touched me the most is practiced in Afghanistan by women who ride at night, gliding in between dirt roads, avoiding cars and glaring lights. A male relative or coach must accompany them.

The members of the recently put together Afghani women’s cycling team are risking everything said Shannon Galpin, who has worked to help the Afghan women’s cycling team through her non-profit Mountain2Mountain.

“The cycling team is facing deep seated cultural stigmas that prevent women from riding bikes,” said Galpin in an interview with The Lantern. “It’s considered taboo, and they receive threats and are sometimes targeted when riding.”

Biking is a solution that offers renewal for women in Afghanistan. Galpin explained how it is hard because it is an outdoor activity that covers immense areas.

“If this was a sport that could be done indoors, like boxing, volleyball, or basketball, it would be much safer and much easier for the girls,” Galpin said.

Elaheh Rostami-Povey, writer of “Afghan Women: Identity and Invasion” blamed the war in Afghanistan, which confused women’s duties.

“They found their culture under attack,” Rostami-Povey said in her book. “What sought to help these women who are thought of as passive victims awaiting liberation was turning their world upside down.”

These women are neither damsels in distress, nor are they in need of a feminist movement: they are in need of routine and normality to their lives.

That routine could be cycling. A bicycle is so much more than a skeleton of metal and wheels. For women who need a light, cycling is hope.

Galpin was named a 2013 adventurer of the year by “National Geographic” for her accomplishments which included becoming the first woman to tackle the Afghan mountains on bike. She was the subject of the award winning documentary film, “MoveShake,” along with being featured on news outlets and magazines.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.