Girls on Bikes in the Shadow of the Taliban

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Why you should care

Because sometimes to stand up to the patriarchy you have to sit down.

Yes, the simple act of a girl riding a bicycle in Afghanistan can stir men and boys on the street to hurl insults. Yes, the societal pressure against riding is immense. Yes, it’s true that even some girls themselves see it as provocative and inappropriate.

But when we met Zahra, an enthusiastic biker from Bamiyan, she said the amount of empowerment — and let’s not forget fun — she experiences while riding makes it all worthwhile. Afghanistan had a national women’s cycling team as early as the 1980s, but political turmoil and the rise of the Taliban put an abrupt end to that. The team was resurrected in 2011, and while attitudes toward female riders have not changed in a meaningful way, the significance and spirit of the team has been lauded. Earlier this year, some members of the Italian Parliament nominated the team for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Zahra, who was once a member of the national team, says she looks forward to the day when this simple, pleasurable act is not seen as a political one.

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