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Afghan women cycle to “make Afghanistan proud”

Female bicycle-aided emancipation continues in the Islamic world, this time through a 2014 film documenting the trials of the Women’s National Cycling Team in Afghanistan.

Afghan Cycles, a documentary about Afghanistan's National Women’s Cycling Team, has its first official trailer. The film will look to shed light on the state of women’s rights in the war-torn country, while documenting the challenges and inspiration behind the creation of the team.

Set up by the National Men’s Team coach Abdul Seddiqe, the team has been supported and developed over the last year with the help of Shannon Galpin, founder of Mountain2Mountain; a charity to provide education and opportunities to women in conflict zones.

Through donations of bikes and kit, Galpin has supported the team and the 12 young cyclists. But perhaps the most valuable donation to the girls will be the platform and opportunity to tell their story, and the story of women in Afghanistan, to the world.

The trailer below, courtesy of Let Media and director Sarah Menzies, begins to introduce some of the cultural issues that the cyclists face as well as a personal insight into the minds of some of the riders.

Afghan Cycles Trailer from LET MEDIA on Vimeo.

Battling against social taboos, the women in Afghanistan are not the first country to turn to bicycles as a symbol of female empowerment this year. They follow women in Saudi Arabia and Egypt who have used bicycles as an embodiment of female empowerment and a vehicle towards equality.

Human Rights Watch researcher Heather Burr and the President of the Afghan Olympic Committee Zaher Aghbar, featured in the trailer, both hint at a positive shift in the cultural expectations of women in Afghanistan.

But a real sense of the injustices that these women face can be heard through the voices of the riders; their stoic belief that change is possible clear in every word that they say.

“They tell us that this is not our right to ride a bike in the streets and such,” one of the young riders says. “We tell them that this is our right and that they are taking our right away. Then we speed off.

“Biking with fear and trembling doesn’t work. When getting on a bike, one must throw these feelings to the wind, and not hold that feeling in their hands.”

While another says: “Sometimes when I ride, I do not feel like I’m on a bike, but somewhere else. Even in my own head, I can’t believe that I learned how to ride a bike.”

Speaking to the Washington Times in March, the woman that made the team possible: Shannon Galpin, said she believes that treating women as equals “is in many ways the last major taboo to be broken".

“It reminds me of reading about the start of women’s cycling in the US in the late 1800’s where women were labeled immoral or promiscuous for wanting to ride a bike, or heaven-forbid, racing,” Galpin said.  “But of course, in Afghanistan you have a much more deep-seated oppression of women overall and an active war zone environment that makes cycling all the more dangerous.  But its not just about a bike - its a symbol of freedom and of women’s rights.”

In the Middle East this year the battle for women’s rights has been fought on two wheels and on two fronts. In October, Saudi Arabian women protested the laws that prohibited them from riding bikes, and in Egypt an online feminist movement named Girls' Revolution encouraged women accross Cairo to take to the streets on bicycles in protest of gender prejudices.

The members of the Afghanistan Women's Cycling Team know that equality won't come easy, but they are motivated, proud and ready to take the necessary steps towards equality.

In one of the final messages from the trailer for Afghan Cycles, one of the members of the team says: “A winner is a person who can make Afghanistan proud and be a hero here. We cannot become a hero by sitting at home.

"To get my country out of this darkness, I want to raise my country’s flag through my sport and show that Afghanistan has people like this living here.”

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