What Does Your Bicycle Mean To You?
Photos by Jenny Nichols / Afghan Cycles
What lengths would you go to in order to ride a bicycle? Following a new generation of young Afghan women cyclists, Afghan Cycles uses the bicycle to tell a story of women’s rights - human rights - and the struggles faced by Afghan women on a daily basis, from discrimination to abuse, to the oppressive silencing of their voices in all aspects of contemporary society. These women ride despite cultural barriers, despite infrastructure, and despite death threats, embracing the power and freedom that comes with the sport. For all of them, the bicycle is a symbol of freedom. But sometimes, the danger and obstacles can prove too much, as we learn when one of the main characters flees to France to secure a better situation and future for herself and her family.
In 2015, our friend Anna Brones wrote a feature for us about an exciting film project she’d been working on since 2012: Afghan Cycles, a documentary about members of the National Cycling Team in Kabul, Afghanistan, as well as young riders in the Bamiyan region who used mountain bikes to commute to school and run errands. Four years later, this passage still stands out:
“The bicycle is a beautiful thing because of its simplicity. All around the world it’s used for transportation, and for fun. But it’s a simple tool that is capable of one very important thing: freedom of mobility. In a place like Afghanistan, that freedom of mobility is what threatens the status quo. It means that a woman can easily get to school. It means that she doesn’t need a man to drive her around.”
In the years since then, the film premiered in the U.S at the Seattle International Film Festival, and in Canada at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. Earlier this, Afghan Cycles became available to stream online. You can find the film on iTunes, Amazon, Roku, and Microsoft in the US, Canada, UK, and Ireland.
The film is a story of women cycling in Afghanistan, but its message runs deeper. Throughout history, the bicycle has played a role in the advancement of women’s rights, and Afghan Cycles is just another part of that story.
“Women and girls in Afghanistan face enormous hurdles to accessing basic rights including education, health and sports—they can risk their lives to get on a bike, so it’s a joy to see in Afghan Cycles,” says Minky Worden, Director of Global initiatives at Human Rights Watch and one of the film’s co-Executive Producers. “A bike can take a girl to school, take a woman to work, and take an athlete to the finish line. So a bike isn’t just a vehicle—it’s a vehicle for social change.”
From June 3 to June 10, 2019, Afghan Cycles is running a social campaign geared at sharing stories of people’s relationships to the bicycle. Share your story of what bicycles mean to you either through a photo or video, and tag @afghancycles along with the hashtag #afghancycles. Anyone who shares their story will be entered to win a grassroots screening kit of Afghan Cycles to bring the documentary to their community.
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We’ve made changes to the way we operate to accommodate the series of new realities we’ve found ourselves in since March. We’ve also had a chance to bear down and focus on some ideas that we’ve had in the works for a long time and just hadn’t had the time to pull off. Our new site is one of them.