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Women's cycling team challenged several social norms and taboos in Afghanistan

The bicycle creates struggles in a culture where the conceived role of women is motherhood and housekeeping, and where roads and streets are dominated by men.


While in Saudi Arabia there has been a ban on women to drive cars, and when in 2018 this bas was lifted, the women activists who had by direct action challenged the patriarchal authorities of the country by driving cars,  had been thrown into jail and tortured [Aziza, 2018], the situation of women cyclists in some countries  is not only a matter of patriarchy and deprivation of human rights but also of attacks on grassroots or popular environmentalism. This is how the conflict in Afghanistan a few years ago can be interpreted, as described below by Sandra Jimena La Rota, herself a militant cyclist. Cyclitst rights have everywhere difficult to implement (hence the movement called "critical mass" in many cities around the world. They are even more elusive for women under strongly patriarchal systems of domination. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Women's cycling team challenged several social norms and taboos in Afghanistan
Location of conflict:Kabul
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Urban development conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Ecosystem Services
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Women are in general not seen on bycicles in Afghanistan. A women's cyclist team in Afghanistan broke taboos about women in bicycles, by 2016 it had won a world reputation for women's liberation and also for the use of bycicles in the streets and the roads.

Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:01/01/2011
Relevant government actors:Afghan National Cycling Federation
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:
Women for women:
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageLATENT (no visible resistance)
Groups mobilizing:Neighbours/citizens/communities
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Development of a network/collective action
Participation in sports competition
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of livelihood, Land dispossession, Displacement, Violations of human rights, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
Other socio-economic impactsThese are impacts of forbidding women cyclism
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Institutional changes
Fostering a culture of peace
Development of alternatives:Members of the Italian parliament nominated the 12 members of the Afghanistan`s national women`s cycling team for a Nobel peace prize. Refering to the team as “ a human representation of the bike and its power to bring about social justice”. The nomination recognizes the bravery, courage and ability of these women to take back the streets and their rights on bikes” says Shannon Galpin, producer of the movie “Afghan cycles” [4], and the founder of the non-profit Mountain2Mountain which supports the team.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:On the one side, these women challenged the current social norms in the society, opening spaces that didn’t belong to them before. On the other side, this is just the starting point, there is a long way still to achieve the revindication of the women in bicycle in many countries.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[4] Farrington, K. (May de 2016). Afghanistan: Rights on bikes. New Internationalist, pág. 9.

[6] Furness, Z. (2010). One less car.

[1] Let's build on momentum to reach more women so we can stop talking about it. (2013)
[click to view]

[2] Cabezas, D. (2016). La revolución silenciosa. La bicicleta como motor del cambio en e siglo XXI. Barcelona: UOC.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[click to view]

[7] Afghanistan’s Two-Wheeled Revolution: First Women’s Bike Racing Team Hits the Road
[click to view]

[9] Afghan Cycles: The film
[click to view]

[11]Women and Girls, 9 Nov 2016. Alexandra Bradford. Members of the Afghan national women’s cycling team have kept on riding through misogyny, harassment and physical violence. Now a corruption scandal threatens to knock the trailblazers off their bikes for good.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[3] Menzies, S. (March de 31 de 2015). TEDx. Obtenido de Director Sarah Menzies Talking about Afghan cycles
[click to view]

[10] Video: Meet the Afghan women taking their lives in their hands for their right to cycle
[click to view]

[5] Interview: Shannon Galpin: pedalling a revolution in Afghanistan
[click to view]

Sarah AZIZA. Saudi Arabia's brutal treatment of female reformers ... - Washington Post. Dec 10, 2018.
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Sandra Jimena La Rota, UAB.
Last update13/01/2019
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