Tag Archives: feminism

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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Bikes Not Burqas

“It’s time to stop referring to Afghan women as weak, as helpless.  Its time to refer to Afghan women as strong, catalysts for change.  How can we expect Afghan women to fight if we continue to label them as victims?”  I said these words at my first TEDx talk two years ago – 9 months before I first met the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team.  I had been working in Afghanistan and was enraged by the way we continue to look at Afghan women, and women like them around the world, as helpless victims that are in need of the West’s support.  These are not victims, although they may be victimized.  These are women of strength and resiliency that need tools, encouragements, and the outlets to use their voice.  2  1/2 years later, the young women I work with in Afghanistan show me every day they are not helpless, they are brave, strong, and fearless.  They simply need tools.  Or in this case, bikes. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The young women of the Afghan National Cycling Team, and the young women around Afghanistan that are learning to ride bikes for the first time in their country’s history, did not grow up under a burqa.  They matured in the post Taliban decade.  They have taken advantage of opportunities in education, art, sport, and politics.  Many were refugees in Iran and Pakistan and returned here in 2002 and 2003 with their families.  Some stayed here and endured the Taliban’s regime.  Most are in their final years of high school or early years of university, a couple are married.  All are embracing the feeling of freedom that comes on two wheels. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA These women are the generation of Afghan women that are embracing new experiences, opportunities, without a specific intent of being revolutionary.   They know what they are doing is controversial, but they believe it is their right, that they deserve the same access and opportunities as men, and riding a bike should not be forbidden because of their gender. I believe sport is a natural gateway to social change.  As these women race and bring national pride to themselves, their families, and to Afghanistan, they are opening the door to allowing girls to ride bikes socially, as transportation.  Increasing access to school or work, protecting their safety, and improving their health.  Creating social justice and gender equality on two wheels. IMG_4339 This year we went one step beyond the team’s support.  I spent a morning at the old bazaar to buy bikes for each of the girls to keep at home.  Their first ever bike.  Do you remember your first bike?  The joy and the freedom you felt riding it?  Young women are now teaching other young women to ride, and several ride their bikes as transportation in Kabul.  The first Afghan women to ever do so.  Crossing the bridge from sport to social independence. IMG_4477 Every day I worry about these young women.  Not just on the bike, but off.  They are on the front line in a gender and cultural war and yet, if they are willing to ride, to go to school, and to believe in a brighter future, I will do everything I can to support them.  On and off the bike.  Will you?  The support of the team has been minimal and it’s time to step up.  It’s time to support the women that are changing the future of their country one pedal stroke at a time.  We need to get them a minibus and bike rack to safely travel to and from training.  We need to support with stipends the national team so that they don’t have to quit the team to help support their families.  We need to support their racing and travel.  We need to pay for coaching training to build the internal infrastructure for the team to grow and flourish and compete ahead of the 2020 Olympics and future Asia Games.  We also need to continue to support the mens’ team so that they will mentor and support the women’s team and build both teams under the cycling federation as brothers and sisters. More importantly, we need to support the young women that are riding outside of the team – women who are using the bike to get to and from school, or to simply ride with their girlfriends on the streets.  Using the bike to literally take back the streets and their rights. Please help these women pedal a revolution.  Believe that social change can occur one pedal stroke at a time.  Know that these women, and women like them, are the future and their fearlessness needs our support.  Tashakur. Donate today. www.mountain2mountain.org/donation    photo credits: Top three – Deni Bechard Bottom two – Shannon Galpin

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