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The women’s cycling team is combatting stereotypes and paving the way for young women in Afghanistan.
Competitive cycling is difficult enough as it is. When you add on constant harassment, accusations of immorality, and the threat of physical violence, you have a pretty compelling reason to stay off the bike and stay home. But one group of women in Afghanistan isn’t letting the disapproval of their peers stand in their way. They get out and ride every day in defiance of cultural expectations and stereotypes, and have been nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for doing so.
As Total Women’s Cycling reports, a group of Italian MP’s has nominated the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team for their hard work at promoting cycling in Afghanistan, and by doing so combatting harmful stereotypes about the role of women in Afghan society.
The team has been riding against the odds for years, becoming the first Afghan women’s cycling team to compete at an international event when they entered the Asian Cycling Championships in Delhi, India in 2013.
While there was a women’s team as early as 1986, the program was discontinued during Soviet and subsequent Taliban control of the country, the latter of which greatly restricted women’s rights to various aspects of social life. It was restarted in 2011 by Abdul Sediq, coach of the Afghan men’s national team, who founded a team around his daughter, Marjan “Mariam” Sedequi. To date, there are around a dozen women on the team who ride in loose fitting pants and shirts with hijabs underneath their helmets to deflect further unwanted attention.
There is a documentary about the team due out later in 2016, but a 2014 short documentary called Afghan Cycles draws attention to the cultural shift these women are leading from the saddles of their bikes.
“People just want to harass others, or to taunt and bother women,” explains one of the young riders in the film. “They tell us it is not our right to ride a bike in the streets and such. We tell them that it is our right and they they are taking our right away. Then we speed off.”