A trail-blazing group of Afghan women are receiving international recognition for their bravery and commitment to positive social change.
The 40-strong Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team is a truly distinct, one-of-a-kind organization in Afghanistan – a war-torn and impoverished country with deeply conservative gender norms. Among the group’s riders, ten are fully competitive cyclists, touring Asia to participate in keynote competitions across the region.
A group 118 Italian parliament members have voted to nominate the team for a Nobel Peace Prize, citing its members’ work advancing women’s rights in their home country.
What makes cycling – a seemingly non-remarkable athletic exercise in many countries – heroic in their case is the danger it attracts. In a documentary produced by LET Media, one rider discusses the animosity directed toward women who break outside the traditional bounds of Afghan life:
Some people believe women are meant only to stay at home, and all they can do is cook food and do housework. They say a bicycle can destroy a girl’s future. People say a lot of things. If we listened to them we would never leave our houses.
The team’s coach told NPR that the cyclists have been pelted by stones while practicing.
Led by cyclist Zahra Hussaini, the team has grown steadily over the past decade, assisted by the nonprofit organization Mountain2Mountain. The group pursues its mission “to empower women and girls in conflict zones” through supporting the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team, donating top-of-the-line racing bikes and running ancillary programs such as the Global Solidarity Ride.
LET Media plans to release a feature-length documentary on these brave riders. In a statement to Total Women’s Cycling, the company remarked that
shortly after we began interacting with these women and learning more about them, we realized that this wasn’t just a short documentary to profile the National Team. To do this story justice, it would have to become a feature length film, focused not just on the National Team, but on the brave female cyclists all over Afghanistan who are pushing gender and cultural barriers using the bicycle as a vehicle for freedom of mobility, independence, and social change.
The team’s bravery and hard-work certainly contribute to the Social Good, not only pointing to a brighter future for women in Afghanistan but also offering the inspiration of change-makers pursuing their dreams despite intractable conflict and oppression.