The Bicycle as a Symbol of Suffrage Reborn in Afghanistan

Rising Team - Wednesday, May 27, 2015
by Rhaeadr Ryan
The bicycle as a symbol of women’s suffrage has seen a rebirth. Afghani women are now claiming their freedom, and standing up to cultural rules by taking to bike riding. 

Afghani women are (culturally) not allowed to ride bicycles. This cultural rule has no legal basis. Technically, it is legally permissible for women to ride bikes. However, it is considered to be amoral for women to ride bicycles. It is viewed as being far too provocative for a woman to be straddling a bike. In fact, until recently, there was apparently not a single woman who even dared try and ride a bike; this being out of fear of verbal or even physical abuse—in some cases even from members of their own families. 

Recently however, a movement has arisen in Afghanistan. Women have courageously started riding bicycles, and have even begun training for world competitions. 

This movement was started by an American women named Shannon Galpin. She began riding her bike in Afghanistan (the first women ever to do so in Afghanistan!), both for the beauty of the countryside, and for the physical challenge that riding in Afghanistan provides. She is now training Afghanistan’s first ever women’s national cycling team. 

The women involved in this new movement are courageous beyond belief. Some have been attacked whilst riding. Some have experienced discrimination from their own families. I think it is important to recognize, however, that virtually all successful human rights movements start with the oppressed claiming their freedom, and showing the world around them that they deserve equal opportunity and protection. Through their actions, these brave women are transforming the way Afghans think about women. 

I’ve always loved the saying, “Rules are made to be broken”. In this case, rules must be broken to have any hope of being changed. 

In training for a world competition (hopefully the 2020 Olympics), the Afghan women’s cycling team is well on its way to changing the entire perception of women by the people of Afghanistan, in general. Surely this success will not be ignored, especially when achieved in the name of the country itself. 

It’s ironic that the bicycle has become a symbol of the women’s movement in Afghanistan. It was also famously a symbol of suffrage at the end of the 19th century. With the symbolic bicycle seemingly experiencing a rebirth, maybe suffrage is coming to Afghanistan and maybe great transformations are coming too. 

Let’s hope so.
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