Let’s face the facts: it’s tough to be a woman in a male dominated world. This has never been more true than in Afghanistan, where women are still denied their basic civil rights by people who claim it to be “un-Islamic.”
The Women’s National Cycling Team of Afghanistan, however, refuses to be held down. Its ten members, all between the ages of 17 and 22, are determined to make a name for themselves in a country plagued by high rates of domestic abuse and sexual violence. In order to do so, they yield a familiar weapon of choice: the bicycle.
The young adventurers are aiming to ride in the 2020 Olympics, despite multiple, obvious barriers. Men, for example, have insulted them while driving by and even young boys throw rocks. The women, however, remain unfazed. Marjan Sidiqqi, one of the team members, believes it is her right to be able to ride. She is featured in Afghan Cycles, a production about the team, which will be released next year.
Activist and National Geographic Adventurer, Shannon Galpin, is one of the producers of the film who has been promoting women’s rights since 2006. As a rape survivor and mother, she could not simply stand on the sidelines as women and girls were continuously denied their basic human rights. As such, she is currently raising funds for the team through her nonprofit organization, Mountain2Mountain.
She is also the first woman to mountain bike in Afghanistan and actively seeks out and connects with other women in remote parts of the country who have been learning how to ride. By doing so, she believes that educational and health care opportunities will be more readily available to them – especially in rural areas.
Shannon, however, understands all the obvious risks involved in her endeavors. Specifically, to mitigate the danger for the cycling team, her group tries to provide opportunities for the women to train on roads in safer areas – perhaps, even in Europe one day in preparation for the Olympics.
But until then, a few rocks won’t stop them from enjoying the sensation of freedom one can only feel on a bike.