Not Easy To Be A Woman And Cycle In Afghanistan
Women cyclists in Afghanistan
NEW DELHI: “Afghan Cycles” is a film, currently in the final stages of production, that documents the life of women cyclists in Afghanistan, who are bravely altering gender norms in the conflict-ridden country.
The film, which began shooting in 2013, profiles three women cycling teams in Afghanistan. This includes the Afghan national team.
Afghanistan is a deeply conservative society, and women, in turn, face a host of restrictions. The head coach of one of the national team, Abdul Sadiq, has faced a number of threats, including being beaten up. Undeterred, Sadiq continues to train the girls. “People call me the father of cycling here,” he tells the Guardian with a grin.
Watch the trailer here:
Sadiq recalls the journey of women cyclists in Afghanistan. Taliban rule made the sport difficult, he tells the Guardian. “There was one mujahideen commander who was like a wild animal from a jungle. He was very surprised to see that girls could bike, and every day we trained he would come and stare at us,” Sadiq said.“I called all my students to the club and said the women can no longer train because of the security situation. The girls started crying, and for me it is one of my saddest memories.”
(Deputy head coach Mariam Marjan is always looking for new recruits in Kabul. Courtesy the BBC).
Today, there are no official restrictions to women cyclists, but challenges remain.
"Some families think girls should just do work at home and not get involved in cycling or any type of sport. It's my luck that my family supports me,” says Nafiza of the national team.
(Image credit: Afghan cycles Facebook page)
The BBC spoke to two women cyclists, sisters Massouma and Zarab. Their father and their brothers approve, but Zarab says they know that their uncles complain to their father. "They will never come in front of us to say why are you cycling, but they say bad words to our father," she said.
However, there is some support for the women as well. "The girls are like our sisters and we support them, we do not let anyone tease or bother them." Khalid, a young man on the Afghanistan Men's National Cycling Team says.
(Image credit: Afghan Cycles facebook page)
The girls, all love it. “I’ve been fascinated by cycling since I was very young. I love the speed,” Alizada tells The Guardian. “Most of the time we exercise with the boys, to help make us braver, stronger. Sometimes when I’m with them, I feel like I’m not a girl.”
“These girls are challenging a big taboo in Afghanistan, riding a bicycle,” said Shannon Galpin to The Guardian, Shannon is an American who is helping to train the team and has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment, sponsorship and publicity.
(The team ascends the highway into the Hindu Kush Mountains. Photograph: Deni Bechard. Courtesy The Guardian).