Cycling as a vehicle for social justice: the inspiring project that started a revolution for Afghan women.
‘They say riding a bike can destroy a girl’s future. If we listened, we would never leave our houses.’ – Afghan Cycles Film
Shannon Galpin became the first woman to mountain bike in Afghanistan in 2009. ‘It’s an incredibly beautiful country to cycle in. But I couldn’t find any other women anywhere,’ she says. ‘I asked men whether their daughters or wives could ride a bike and the answer was always no. They were ok with me riding a bike because I was a foreigner, but it was just not acceptable for women.’ In answer to this problem, Shannon founded Mountain2Mountain, a not-for-profit charity working with women and girls, focused on getting them onto bikes in Afghanistan.
// Finding Afghan Women to Ride
In Autumn 2012 Shannon had a meeting with the men’s national cycling team of Afghanistan. ‘They told me there were women who were learning how to pedal’ she said. ‘What’s more, they had support from their families, from their community.’ Riding bikes, for girls, is one of the deep seated taboos left in Afghanistan. ‘It’s this idea that riding a bike is controversial, that riding on a bike seat is provocative and immoral. So these girls put themselves at great risk – they have been sling shotted and rocks have been thrown at them.’
‘These girls know they’re pushing boundaries – but they’re not doing it to be revolutionary, they’re riding a bike because they feel they have the right to.’ Liv, a new cycling brand from Giant – aimed solely at women, heard about Shannon’s work and leapt to support the project with bikes and cycling clothing. ‘They understand that this isn’t about racing bikes, it’s about using bikes to create change,’ Shannon says.
‘These girls in Afghanistan are proving with every pedal stroke that change is possible.’
// Bike equals freedom
‘Working with these girls is so inspiring, they are literally risking their lives for the joy of riding. These girls are organically sparking a revolution,’ Shannon says. ‘My role is to empower and support them to lead the programme – not to take over it. It’s important that this is an Afghan lead project.’ ‘Miriam (below) is a great symbol of the team. She believes that this is her right – nobody can take it away from her. She rides knowing that she’s pushing these boundaries, because she loves the freedom. The bike equals freedom.’
Afghan Cycles – the film is coming in 2016. Meanwhile, the Afghan Women’s Cycling team have been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Watch this space for change, or better still – get your girlfriends, wives, BFFs, mums and daughters to ride a bike.