Tag Archives: gender equity

For the Love of a Bike

Do you remember your first bike?  Odds are, you remember distinctly the color, the shape of the seat, it may have even had a name.  Mine was a  bright blue Schwinn.  It was stolen off my front porch a few months later and I was heartbroken.  My second was pink with a banana seat.  I was careful not to leave it on the front porch and it was my faithful friend until junior high when I got my first steel blue ten speed.  Funny how bikes mark themselves indelibly on your brain?

This week in Afghanistan, I had the pleasure of giving 12 girls in Kabul their first bike.

First up was a visit to bazaar in the old part of Kabul to purchase some bikes that the girls could ride easily and that wouldn’t stand out – more than a girl riding a bike already does in a country that has never allowed females to ride bikes.

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We pick up a fleet of the same bike in different colors.  We had the bike mechanic that worked with us to build up the donated Liv/giant racing bikes check them over and make sure everything was in working order.  Delivered them to Coach’s house and asked the girls to meet up for a team meeting.

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We handed out the bikes to huge smiles and laughter.  The girls have loved riding the new racing bikes and training, but none of them have ever had their own bike.  Each girl has assured us that they have a male family member that have agreed to ride with them as an escort, most cases a brother, but also a father and a step-son.  These girls are among the first Afghan girls to be riding bikes in Kabul socially.  Its the start of a revolution.  Girls on bikes.  Breaking the last big gender taboo.  We couldn’t be prouder.  Ride on ladies.

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The Boxing Girls of Kabul

Sadaf has a bit of a swagger as she moves.  Her dark hair is pulled off her face and her pale pink headscarf is tied tightly in a way that reminds me of my sister’s soccer team in Colorado rather than a typical Afghan girl in Kabul.  But Sadaf is not a typical Afghan girl.  And neither are the other twenty or so girls gathered in the dark, leaky basement of Kabul Stadium with their trainer, former Afghan boxing champion Saber Sharifi.

I’ve come to Kabul Stadium, most famous for its use as the site for public executions under the Taliban, to see the strength of Afghan girls personified in sport.  Boxing.

Sadaf is 17 years old and has been boxing here for four years.  She and the other girls go through a half hearted warm up but come alive when its time to don red boxing gloves and their swagger emerges.   Shoulders loose, punches strong, and feet quick – their body’s exude confidence not seen elsewhere in Afghanistan.  They are all dressed conservatively, with long pants and long sleeves accompanying sheer headscarves which during bouts they trade for traditional boxing headgear.

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Pedal Power Nation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This October, the Panjshir Tour rolls into several cities – grassroots, community bike rides that supportMountain2Mountain’s work with women and children in conflict zones. This is the second year of the Tour, based off my experiences mountain biking in Panjshir province of Afghanistan. Yup, Afghanistan.

Countries like Afghanistan don’t culturally allow women on bikes right now, and while our project focus is targeted towards women and girls, its not about getting them on bikes, Rather, its about using the bike as a vehicle for social justice and change for women’s rights. It’s a subtle difference, but a powerful one. Mountain2Mountain’swork is advocacy, education, training, and cultural outreach. We aren’t trying to rashly push on cultural boundaries unnecessarily over there, but we can use the bike back here as a tool to affect change in increments that are sustainable.

Thus the Panjshir Tour was born when I rode across the Panjshir Valley last October, and riders in eight communities rode with me in solidarity for women’s rights, using their sweat equity to help raise awareness and funds for our projects. Rides like the one in Saratoga Springs, New York which was spearheaded by 11-year-old Reese Arthur around her neighborhood with her fellow students, or the one in Washington DC that started at ended at previously designated women’s prisons during the suffrage movement. The deaf university, Gallaudet University in Washington DC hosted a campus ride knowing it would benefit our work with the Afghan National Association for the deaf as we work to build a school, and cruiser bikes hit the beach path in LA in an impromptu ride.

Countries like Afghanistan don’t culturally allow women on bikes right now, yet my experience riding across the Panjshir Valley, as a foreign woman, on a bike was met with friendly curiosity and often incredulity, but never animosity. The interactions created by their curiosity led to endless conversations and questions about my purpose there and my work in the area, and often concluded with requests to visit their village, or offers to join their family for dinner. The gracious tradition of Muslim hospitality to travelers firmly in place even in a country enduring nearly forty years of conflict.

It was my goal to challenge perceptions and invite conversation on both sides of the equation. Challenging the stereotypes of women and Americans in Afghanistan, while challenging parallel stereotypes of Afghans as a people and as a nation in the United States. Bridging cultures and communities on two wheels.

Women that I know that lived and worked in Afghanistan in the 60′s as part of the Peace Corps rode their bikes daily to and from work – a far cry from the security lockdowns and convoys required today. Women like Dervla Murphy pedaled solo across the entire region prior to the Soviet’s invasion. We all know the power of the pedal. Connecting communities, reducing our carbon footprint, improving our health, exploring new cultures, and in third world countries the list grows to social issues like increasing access to education and healthcare, and decreasing violence against women. Pedal power indeed.

It is this pedal power that sparked the Panjshir Tour in cities like Los Angeles, Denver, Minneapolis, Saratoga Springs, Santa Rosa, Portland, and Washington DC.

Actor and bike advocate Matthew Modine expressed his support of the Panjshir Tour as honorary co-chair of this year’s event stating, “The women and girls of Afghanistan deserve our attention and support. This is not a women’s issue or an Afghanistan issue. Its a human rights issue. I want to encourage everyone with a bike to use it as a vehicle for social change by coming out and riding with us and showing your support for gender equity and opportunity for women and girls all over the world”

By coming together with our bikes, we can fight for justice, we can battle for change, and we can do it one pedal stroke at a time.

Come join us this October, or start your own grassroots ride in your community. Get pedaling and get involved!

(originally published in Huffington Post - September 9, 2011)

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An Army of Women

Hilary Clinton wrote the book and thus coined the phrase, “It Takes a Village”.

In our case, I’d argue it takes an army.

Not a military one.  An army of women.  A battalion of passionate mothers, daughters, and sisters, that are willing to sacrifice time, money, and energy to be crusaders of gender equity and human rights.

The time of turning a blind eye, of ignoring the headlines, or saying, “but what can I do about it?” has passed.  The time for change is now.

No longer can we ignore the women raped around the world, the girls trafficked across borders for prostitution, or the unplanned babies born to both.   Women and girls traded as commodities and used like a disposable, empty, object.

No more can we dismiss genital mutilation, ironing breasts, or other torturous concepts that put the blame of rape and childhood pregnancy on the women, instead of punishing the men that perpetrate the crimes.  Mutilating women to stem sexual assault just adds insult to injury.

It is not acceptable that as women living in the West, enjoying the freedoms women before us fought for, that we do not rally, advocate, and work to ensure that women EVERYWHERE have these freedoms.

It is not enough to shout against the injustice done to women across the globe.

Action is the key.  As women, we must act.  As mothers, sisters, daughters, we must act.

We must build schools, train women, employ women, support women.  Provide education and healthcare to women.  Advocate against violence and mutilation practices.

Action, a forward momentum, an effort to make a change.  Little steps by the masses create large ripples that change lives.

John F. Kennedy stated, “One person can make a difference and EVERYONE must try.”  One woman on her own, can change several lives if she commits.   An army of committed women can change the world.

photo by Di Zinno

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Women’s rights will be the first casualty of surrender in Afghanistan

So said the headline of the Vancouver Sun this weekend.  ”Women’s rights will be the first casualty of surrender in Afghanistan.”  The article discusses Canada’s role in Afghanistan and makes the argument that those involved in the international conflict need to look beyond the desire to find the quickest exit strategy and instead take a stand for human rights.   This article was written from the Canadian perspective, but you could easily substitute the United States, Sweden, Germany, or England, among the many involved in Afghanistan.

“Arguments surface today when we raise our voices about violence against women in other countries. We are told that violations of women’s rights are part of someone else’s culture, and that we have no business interfering. We should just mind our own affairs.

In fact, it is those of us inclined to believe that human rights are a Western invention who are most vulnerable to this argument. If the right to food and dignity is as cultural as casual Fridays at the office, it may indeed seem offensive to criticize others for alternative practices. But this is like suggesting that the need to eat is a peculiarly Canadian characteristic. The right to equal treatment, education, and freedom from violence are not specific to one culture. They are universal entitlements that are valued as ardently among Afghan women as our own.”

The words sent a chill through my spine.  This is why I founded Mountain2Mountain.  This is why I believe we can all be catalysts for change.  Its why I believe that the women and girls of Afghanistan are the solutions, not the just the victims.

We CAN be the change we wish to see in the world.  We can insist upon human rights and gender equity for all, regardless of culture or geographic boundary.  Not only CAN we.  We MUST.

photo by Di Zinno

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