Virtually each morning, earlier than rush hour clogs up the streets of Kabul, skilled athlete Rukhsar Habibzai places on her helmet, goggles and biking footwear and rides door-to-door choosing up girls for a coaching session, round Afghanistan’s capital.
Many within the conservative nation see biking as a sport reserved for males, so for Habibzai and the handfuls of different cyclists on the nationwide girls’s workforce using is about combating the taboo and claiming equal area on the town’s streets.
With Kabul’s air cleaner than traditional following the coronavirus lockdown and the town asserting that it’ll quickly create its first cycle lanes, Habibzai and her teammates are zipping round city to encourage extra younger girls to get on their bikes.
“I at all times thought to myself, if the rights of women and men are equal, why don’t women journey bicycles in Afghanistan?,” requested the 24-year-old workforce captain, sporting a vivid pink jacket on an early morning coaching session.
“And that’s the reason I made a decision to turn into a mannequin for a lot of Afghan women to observe, to problem the restrictions and begin using bicycles,” Habibzai informed the Thomson Reuters Basis.
Underneath the supervision of the Afghanistan Biking Federation, near 30 younger girls are registered for normal coaching classes in Kabul. “That’s up from solely a pair in April,” mentioned Habibzai.
Fazli Ahmad Fazli, president of the Afghan Biking Federation, mentioned that biking competitions would even be held in varied Afghan provinces every month to encourage girls to take up biking.
Nonetheless, even Kabul, which is mostly perceived by residents because the most secure metropolis within the nation, male members of the biking federation accompany the ladies throughout their coaching classes to attempt to avert the bullying they typically expertise.
A number of the girls cyclists informed the Thomson Reuters Basis they’ve been verbally and bodily assaulted by passersby, and have even been pelted with stones and water.
“It’s fairly a shock for them (onlookers) to see women using bicycles on the street,” mentioned Habibzai, who has been biking for greater than 5 years.
“Two weeks in the past, a automotive hit one among our colleagues intentionally,” she added.
In accordance with historic accounts, earlier than the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Kabul was seen as an rising and progressive metropolis, the place it was widespread to see girls and women using bicycles.
That modified in the course of the Soviet occupation and after, when combating amongst totally different mujahideen factions after which the Taliban’s brutal regime from 1996 to 2001 introduced strict legal guidelines that stripped girls of a lot of their rights, famous Kabul-based researcher and author Nezam Uddin.
Whereas girls have made large strides for the reason that finish of Taliban rule, with rising numbers incomes an schooling and dealing in beforehand male bastions, they proceed to face harassment and hurdles, human rights activists say.
“Regardless of the almost 20 years of huge worldwide engagement, funding and relative peace, Afghanistan basically – and Kabul, particularly – has not returned to the identical stage of social equality and acceptance,” Uddin added in a cellphone interview.
Sajida Diljam is among the many youthful feminine cyclists who’ve been impressed to vary that.
As she cruised down a hill to affix the remainder of the group one sunny summer time morning, the 24-year-old reveals off the bicycle drawn neatly on her wrist with everlasting marker.
“I’ve at all times had a private curiosity (in biking) and wished it to turn into a standard observe for ladies,” mentioned Diljam, who joined the group when it began final yr.
Habibzai defined that each lady who joins should be at the least 15 years previous and get the consent of her mother and father. There isn’t a payment, she added.
Like her mentor Habibzai, Diljam goals of in the future taking the workforce to biking occasions on the world stage, such because the Tour de France and the Olympics.
For now, that dream appears out of attain.
“We face an absence of sources and an absence of safety. In the remainder of the world, there’s loads of funding in sportsmen and girls,” Diljam mentioned, including that the bike she is using belongs to a buddy they usually should share it for coaching.
One other situation is highway security, the cyclists say.
With no devoted cycle lanes or coaching grounds, they are saying they haven’t any alternative however to exit using at daybreak, earlier than the roads are crammed with Kabul’s chaotic site visitors.
Throughout longer observe classes, after they should work on stamina, and time and pace administration, the younger girls discover themselves dodging vehicles, vans, and cruising safety convoys.
The federal government’s biking lane undertaking has been delayed by long-awaited peace negotiations with the Taliban, with just one lane having been added since June, mentioned residents.
Within the meantime, the younger girls say they’ll proceed to cycle collectively, going door-to-door to assist one another as they pedal towards equality and private freedom.
However for lots of the younger girls cyclists, the journey proves too powerful.
“We reside in a rustic the place using bicycles is a matter of honour for ladies. We make it clear to the brand new women occupied with becoming a member of us that there are lots of challenges … solely these prepared to face these challenges can come and journey bicycles,” mentioned Habibzai.
(This story has been printed from a wire company with out modifications to the textual content. Solely the headline has been modified.)