Lots of girls remember the time when they learned to ride a bike. It’s one of those classic childhood memories that gets played up in movies and commercials for dramatic affect because we can all somehow relate to it. Unless you’re like me and bike riding just didn’t ever really happen (still waiting on a CERTAIN SOMEONE for my lesson).
But for young girls in Afghanistan, bike riding isn’t a right of passage, it’s a taboo. While the reasons are many, the key factor in girls not being able to ride bikes freely, comes from the notion that the seat can actually tear away at a girl’s virginity and as we all know virginity is like money. You need to always have that shit.
“They say a bicycle can destroy a girl’s future. They say a lot of things. If we listened to them we would never leave our houses.” – Cyclist on Afghanistan National Women’s Team
Despite the fears of severed virginity, Afghanistan is home to a 40-woman national cycling team that not only competes abroad, but has recently been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The nomination came about after social media and radio stations in Italy suggested that the bicycle (the actual object) be among the nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize. It was then the vote of Ermete Realacci, an Italian politician, that the bike be represented by Afghanistan’s National Women’s Team for their strides towards raising awareness of the sport in their home country. Over one hundred Italian MPs signed the petition to get the team officially nominated. For some very strange reason the Italian community seems to love Afghan women and bikes. Who knew?
There are a lot of cycling teams out there in the world right? Not that I would really know because, again, can’t maneuver a bike. But Google tells me that cycling teams are actually a huge deal. Cycling in general is an enormous and grueling sport. Blogs upon blogs exist around the topic of cycling and cycling related news. So of all the great big world of bikes and of all the teams, why does Afghanistan appear to be the chosen one?
The team began with a professional cyclist named Abdul Sadiq who decided to pass down his knowledge and training to his daughter. After his daughter succeeded in competition abroad, it was time to assemble the team. While Sadiq serves as the team’s head coach, his deputy coach Mariam Marjan is often the one going out to recruit new riders and raise interest in the sport.
“We say that the women should not stay home, they should come out and do sport.” – Mariam Marjan
Marjan says that is isn’t always easy recruiting new girls for the team when opposition to the sport still remain so high. Families are large networks in Afghanistan and if one member approves there are a litany of other uncles, cousins, and brothers waiting to offer their unwanted two cents.
The team trains 3 days a week on the outskirts of Kabul. To reach their training location the women carry their bikes from Sadiq’s house through back allies and side streets where they will be seen by the fewest amount of people. Sadiq still receives threats and was even assaulted because of the work he is doing. But members of the team remain optimistic about their cause and while they are not using high line equipment like other sponsored teams they have been successful in regional competitions against Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Who really knows what the future holds for Sadiq and his team. There could be chance that they don’t win the award and return to life as normal. They might actually win this year and be shot to instant fame. Some large company could sponsor them and the girls could be given amazing bikes with which to train and compete. There are a lot of variables.
One thing is certain: by simply doing something that they love these women have forced the sporting world to stop for a minute and pay attention. We are divided by many things in this life and for a brief amount of time we’re all here, together, wondering what could happen for girls who ride bikes.