SEATTLE, WASHINGTON — There are women in Afghanistan who are risking their lives to fight for their rights: their right to get an education, their right to work outside the home, their right to run for Parliament, and their right to ride a bike. These few, brave women who dare to ride epitomize how the bike is often viewed as a symbol of freedom — they are literally pedaling a revolution in how women are perceived and valued.
In fact, the bike has been a symbol of freedom for women before, here in the US. Susan B. Anthony declared in 1896, “The bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”
It is with this idea in mind that Afghan Cycles was born. Afghan Cycles is a 15-20 minute documentary that will not only highlight the Afghan National Women’s Cycling team through their mountainous practice sessions on the backroads and highways outside of Kabul, this film will also share an intimate look at the lives of these teammates when they’re not on their bikes. Working with a translator and consciously entering the women’s homes, filmmakers will take a closer look at what it means to be a woman in the male-dominated country, while challenging gender barriers and setting an example to Afghan women at home, empowering women worldwide.
The documentary is in the process of being filmed now, and a crew heads to Afghanistan in April to finish filming footage for it. The goal of the film is to show the world what these women are fighting for: the right to equality, and the right to enjoy simple pleasure of riding a bike. The hope is that the film will help galvanize the community – both cyclists and women – into pushing for a small change that could have a huge impact on women in the Middle East. Mountain2Mountain, a group dedicated to creating education and opportunity for women, is trying to raise money to finish the documentary and continue their work with the women in Afghanistan, and people can help by contributing to the Afghan Cycles Kickstarter project.
This documentary is a LET MEDIA production, directed by filmmaker Sarah Menzies. Whitney Conner Clapper of Side of the Road Sessions is joining the team as the Co-Director, bringing a strong background in both marketing and women’s studies. The Producer of the film is founder of Mountain2Mountain Shannon Galpin, who has spent the last five years working with women and children in Afghanistan, and was the first and so far only woman to mountain bike in Afghanistan. She was nominated as a 2013 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for her humanitarian work in Afghanistan.
“The film project aims to tell the story of these women cyclists that are daring to ride their bikes and use them as an example of the larger picture of women’s rights in Afghanistan,” Galpin explains. “What does it say about a culture that thinks women are immoral or promiscuous because she rights a bike? But that’s what the United States culture thought of women riding in the late 1800’s. Its one small way to challenge the status quo—to tackle deep seated cultural taboos of what women are allowed to do.“
Anita DeFrantz, Chairwoman of the International Olympic Committee’s Women and Sport Commission and an IOC member recently commented on the role that sports play in ending violence towards women, saying that: “Sport and its values are valuable tools to address and improve self-esteem, body control, leadership and assertiveness – all being elements which can contribute to tackle violence.” Nowhere is this truer than in Afghanistan today. Even as the Women’s National Cycling Team begins to meet and train, cycling is still very much a taboo in Afghanistan. It is considered offensive, and much like the women that dared to ride their bikes in petticoats in the late 1800’s, the stigma of immorality and promiscuity is hard to push past. However, similarly to the women’s suffrage movement in America, where the bicycle was intrinsically linked, riding a bike could be a vehicle for change in Afghanistan. The Western view of women’s rights in Afghanistan is often of oppression and cruelty. This film will tell the positive story of the brave women teammates who are challenging this point of view, with each peddle stroke.