Once exiled from public life, the Women’s National Cycling Team embodies the strides women are making in Afghanistan.
The team of more than 40 women trains on a lonely road outside of Kabul, Reuters reported. To avoid attention, the team’s uniform consists of loose-fitting shirts and long pants. During practice, the coach leads in his car, but the women still sometimes have profanities shouted at them. “The coach is like a shield for us,” team member Malika Yousufi told Reuters. “If he wasn’t there, we couldn’t ride.”
“We want to prove ourselves to the women outside Afghanistan that Afghan women are able to do this,” team member Zahra Alizada told IB Times. “We don’t want to be locked inside the home anymore. Whether it is in sports or studies we want prove ourselves. We don’t want to be imprisoned anymore as we were during the Taliban era.”
The team competes internationally and is one of 11 bike-racing teams that permits women to train and race in Afghanistan. In the 1990s under the Taliban, women were not allowed to leave the house without a male family member and today, outside of some neighborhoods in Kabul, there is not very much tolerance for women on bikes. Heather Barr, a researcher in Kabul with Human Rights Watch, told ESPN: “The fact that their families have allowed them to ride bikes makes these women, and their parents, very unique in Afghanistan.”
Despite the pressure, the team rides on. Yousufi’s dream is to be the first Afghan woman to compete in the in the Tour de France, she told Reuters.
“We are living in a society where there is no chance for girls to prove themselves, but we think differently,” she said. “There are lots of challenges for women but we want to prove ourselves at any cost.”
Reuters Photographer Mohammad Ismail followed the cycling team. Here’s a look: