Well behaved women rarely make history
Remember those fantastic Afghani women, who dared to take on the repressive cultural norms of their country and form a women’s cycling team?
Well the great news is that currently Afghani women’s cycling is again the focus of the world’s media in the wake of the Afghan Women’s National Cycling team nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize – team members are thrilled to have received the nomination and say any opposition has only strengthened them.
The nomination is based on the team’s promotion against all odds of “the most democratic means of transportation for all mankind.”
The women are defying cultural taboos that make women’s cycling immoral and in the eyes of many other Afghani citizens, illegal. They are often insulted, harassed and assaulted; one rider was deliberately hit by a motorcyclist [Sydney Policemen on holiday perhaps?], and the riders often have rocks thrown at them.
Zhala Sarmast, the youngest member of the team, said the harassment doesn’t stop them from riding.
“When people discourage you, three things can happen,” Sarmast said. “It can destroy you, it can define you or it can strengthen you. I let it strengthen me; that is why I am here today. I have come way too far to quit now.”
Hmm, this morning I wussed out from riding because it was still pitch black and raining. Rocks you say ?
The nomination was put forward by a group of Italian lawmakers, the shortlist will be determined during March and the final decision will be made by the Norwegian Nobel Committee in October. This year there are the highest number of candidates ever, 376 in total; 228 individuals and 148 organizations.
Other nominees include Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who escaped from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) sexual slavery to become a spokeswoman who champions the rights of ISIS rape victims and Congolese surgeon Denis Mukwege, who treats victims of sexual violence in that nation's civil war.
[There was also the inevitable nomination of whatever Pope we have in office at the time, so Pope Francis presumably was nominated for his protection of Cardinal George Pell from the consequences of his own in/actions ...
and nominee Donald Trump clearly for his efforts to liberate the US from the tyranny of solid reasoning, science and logical debate.]
Yet all is not well within the Afghan Cycling Federation. From the women’s team main supporter Mountain2Mountain;
“ …the mismanagement and corruption of many involved at the Afghan cycling federation cannot be fixed. It’s difficult to come to this conclusion on the heels of the team being recognized as National Geographic Adventurers of the Year and their nomination as part of Bike the Nobel for the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s a dream come true that these girls are being recognized for their bravery and courage on two wheels. Yet supporting the infrastructure doesn’t support the girls …
…in parallel to the success of the team at breaking barriers and inspiring other girls to ride, there is a system of corruption that I can no longer deal with in good conscious. During the formal announcement of the Peace Prize nominations, the team was supposed to be racing in India at the South Asian Championships. We sent over racing kits and the funding to get 5 girls there plus the Coach. Instead, the team got to Dehli and stayed there instead of traveling on to Guhwati. There they visited the Coach’s extended family, he took his new wife to the doctor, and the team had one group ride through town. The girls were denied their chance to race and represent their country because of mismanagement at best, corruption at worst. This is just the most recent example, there have been many throughout the past three years, this one was simple the most blatant.
There is no effort by the cycling federation in Kabul to support and encourage the other groups of girls that are starting clubs and teams. Instead these young women that are riding without the safety or direction of anyone but themselves are mocked and ignored. Girls like Zhara who started teaching girls to ride as a social movement, registered a team with the sports federation and yet is excluded from the federation, and insulted by the Coach. Instead of understanding that bike clubs only give the federation more strength, that more girls riding strengthens the national team in the long run, the Coach sees them as a threat to his power and control of his fiefdom.
Fiefdoms and power struggles exist throughout Afghanistan … the previous President of the Afghan Olympic Committee told me directly … the AOC only wants to support A level sports like football and cricket because they don’t want to look like amateurs. We fought hard together to get one girl allowed a spot to go.”
So in short, resources are being diverted to the men's teams, or simply stolen outright. Awesome.
Over the past three years the women’s team have been allowed to race internationally, been part of training camps where they learned how to shift gears, how to draft, and how to ride in a pack. They learned about cycling nutrition and hydration. They made long term plans, discussed barriers to involvement, and how to deal with these barriers.
Their story is in two museums as examples of sports diplomacy. They have been in over a hundred press articles in over 30 countries.
Mountain2Mountain have determined the best way to support the women’s team is to do so directly, and find a way of bypassing the country’s corrupt cycling body.
Mountain2Mountain; dare to believe in our common humanity
Mountain2Mountain was founded in November 2006 by Shannon Galpin. Shannon took action on her deep conviction that all women and girls deserve the same rights and opportunities as her own daughter. She walked away from her career as an athletic trainer and used her own limited funds to launch M2M and “be the change” she wished to see in the world. Shannon recruited volunteers and donors and developed collaborative partnerships with others working across the globe to create a voice and empower women and girls in conflict zones.
Before Mountain2Mountain were forced to this decision, they were in the post-production stages of a file about women’s cycling; Afghan Cycles
Their story will soon be told on the big screen. The future sees a new chapter in this story as M2M continue to work to support women in Kabul, in Bamiyan, and elsewhere to continue to ride, to break barriers, and to believe in their own future for years to come. #pedalarevolution