From Kabul to Bamyan, there are small groups of girls who are riding bicycles. We are witnessing girl’s biking in big cities and on roads. Girls who are indifferent to the larger public opinion, pedals and ride alongside men.
Biking across Bamyan
Bamyan is one of the safer provinces in central Afghanistan that although has not seen enough economical growth, but residents of this province have managed to make social and cultural progress. The province hosts various sporting activities, including an international skiing competition.
And further defying cultural hurdles, girls in this province started a biking campaign in the winters. Zahra Hussaini, who was one of the organisers of this project explained to Paiwandgah what it meant for girls to be able ride a bike, “Biking is a good way of transport for girls who go to work, especially for those whose economical condition are not good,” she said. “And apart from being good for the environment, it also helps women stay fit,” she added.
After the start of this campaign, another 12 girls joined Zahra Hussaini and started riding the bicycles. As the group got bigger, they decide to name it. The biking girls of Bamyan now call themselves ‘Randan Haq-e-mast’ which literally means “biking is our right”.
At the beginning it was difficult for them to ride bicycles, they share, but after three months they are now more comfortable with it. The group continues to campaign and has enlisted more girls into the national biking team. Two of these girls even secured first and second positions in the provincial competitions.
Cycling girls of Kabul
Despite plenty of social problems, Kabul can still boasts of women cyclists. Halima Habibi is an Afghan woman living in Kabul who says she had a great love and passion for riding the bicycle since she was child. She said that she learned to ride a bike in Iran. However, when she came back to Afghanistan, she faced social obstacles, considering women on bikes was an unusual sight in Kabul. Halima, who is in her 20s now, is a member of the ‘Girls Up’ club which is established by Fatima Haidari. It is a project funded by United Nations that helps girls in developing countries to foster their abilities.
Habibi said that they did not have enough and suitable space to train the girls. “We were training them in Khana Farahang (which means Cultural House), an organisation for cultural activities, for some times, but later on we were able to manage cycling in the yard. But what we really needed was to get out on the streets and ride along the city roads,” she narrates
“When we simply walk on the streets, we hear taunts and unsuitable words. So you can imagine how these taunts increase when we ride bikes,” she says.
But they are determined to continue. “One day, when we were riding our cycles, when a group of boys who were also riding bikes followed us. But we continued our journey to show them we were not afraid of them,” Habibi narrates.
Fariba is concern that in a country like Afghanistan where people don’t see women cycling as a good practice will challenge them. “In this country, it will be counted as defiance of the religious boundaries,” she said. When Fariba returned home to Afghanistan, she was afraid that she may not be able to ride again. But when she met like-minded girls, they were able come together and start riding the cycles in Kabul. Later on, they even managed to collaborate with the Cycling Federation and National Cyclists Team.
“Biking is more of a right than a sport or entertainment,”
Riding, a human right?
Soraya Afzali, a student at American University of Afghanistan, launched the first ever biking competition at the university. They were supported by the American University of Afghanistan. “We often ride on the Darulaman road during our holidays,” she shares. Soraya is not afraid of riding and is willing to rides across the whole city along with her friends.
“Biking is more of a right than a sport or entertainment,” she explains. “It is no different that the right to employment, study and other rights. As an Afghan citizen, I have the right to bike.”
Prepared by: Raziya Masumi and Alia Rajai