March 25, 2016–Zahra Hussaini, Afghan Cyclist
Zahra Hussaini has been riding a bike since she was five years old in a refugee camp in Iran. When she and her family relocated to the Herat province in Afghanistan, she kept it up, often donning male clothing to avoid attention.
Her passion for cycling only grew as she grew and today Hussaini is the leader of the Afghan Women’s Cycling Team. And this year, that same team has been nominated by a group of Italian MPs for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Hussaini, along with her bike, have become a symbol for women in Afghanistan. But she is not content to be just a “idea” of female empowerment. She has started a campaign to support Afghanistan’s female cyclists called Randan Haq-e-mast (Biking is our right) highlighting the young women in her country and the future they will have there. Her work and her cycling have earned her praise and criticism by many conservative figures who see the bicycle as a threat to appropriate female behavior.
“Bike riding is good for the environment and health,” Hussaini recently told the LA Times. “I, of course, want more women everywhere to join in.”
Hussaini gives biking lessons to both women, and some men as well, hoping to get more people pedaling. Bikes make sense in Afghanistan where many towns and villages are located in remote locations. Any kind of public transportation, buses or taxis, is unavailable. Walking can be dangerous and it takes forever to get anywhere. A bicycle can change that, giving more freedom of movement in a country that is known for the restrictions it places on women.
The bicycle and women like Hussaini are changing conditions for women in Afghanistan though. There may only be a few women cyclists now, but their numbers are growing and so is acceptance of female empowerment.
The bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood.
–Susan B. Anthony
Along with Hussaini, the Afghan Women’s Cycling Team has 40 members. They’ve suffered death threats, insults and withering indifference. These women are fit and competitive, and make no mistake, they are also brave. For many of us, riding a bike brings a feeling of joy. For these Afghan Women Cyclists, it’s also an act of courage.
One member of the team is quoted in a short documentary saying: “They say a bicycle can destroy a girl’s future. People say a lot of things. If we listened to them we would never leave our houses”.