By guest blogger, Anna Brones

The bicycle may seem a simple form of transportation and sport, but for women around the world it can be a tool of empowerment. Afghan Cycles follows a new generation of young Afghan women who are pedaling their own revolution, aggressively challenging gender and cultural barriers using the bicycle as a literal and metaphorical vehicle for freedom, empowerment and social change.

In Afghan Cycles, the bicycle is used 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. Marginalized and severely discriminated against under the Taliban, today’s Afghan women enjoy minimal constitutional rights, but gender bias still runs deep.

“In the spring of 2013, I arrived in Kabul with the intent of making a short film about the Women’s National Cycling Team of Afghanistan. I figured that a cycling-centric film with Afghanistan as the backdrop would make for an unlikely, yet compelling story. At that point in my career, I was getting established as an adventure filmmaker, and the story of these Afghan women seemed perfect for the path my work had taken me on thus far. Within an hour of landing and taking in my surroundings from the safety of our car, I knew that this was going to have to go much deeper than the story I originally sought to tell. I met the girls that afternoon, and they looked brave, stoic, and beautiful. Sitting there with them on that first introduction, I realized how little I knew about them or their backgrounds. At that moment, I felt so lucky to be meeting them, and honored that they were willing to open up their world to me. ”
— Director Sarah Menzies

Gender violence and oppression makes Afghanistan one of the most challenging places in the world to be a woman. In a country where even straddling a bicycle seat is considered immoral, the simple act of cycling makes these women cyclists’ revolutionaries. The women profiled in Afghan Cycles are ushering in a new era for a country slowly awakening to global influence and cultural change.

The film follows a group of women training and road racing as part of the Women’s National Cycling Team in Kabul. The obstacles they face at times seem insurmountable­–corruption, national instability, threats from the Taliban–yet their story represents progress towards empowerment that many Muslim women worldwide are desperately trying to obtain. We see them making major life decisions for themselves. While some opt for furthering their education and careers, others are getting married and starting families. But for some, the danger of being a female athlete in Afghanistan can prove too much, leading to personal and family threats. The fate of one of the major characters is in limbo when she decides to flee to France to secure a better situation and future for herself and her family.

In contrast to the National Team, the films moves to the shadows of the Buddha that once overlooked the Bamiyan Valley in Central Afghanistan, and profile a women’s mountain biking group that commutes to school and runs errands on their bicycles--a simple change with huge impact on education, self-sufficiency, and a shift in public perception of women on bicycles across the Muslim world. However it does not come easy--they face backlash from the community and local Mullah who do not its appropriate for women to be cycling in public, but the team perseveres.  

Afghan Cycles spans a four-year period, from 2013 to 2017. As the stories of these brave women develop and evolve, the security situation in Afghanistan worsens. Women bear the brunt of this shift, and as Afghanistan deals with growing security threats, it jeopardizes these female riders and Afghan women as a whole.

Afghan Cycles is screening as part of the 2018 Napa Valley Film Festival  on November 7, 9 and 10. More info here.

Source : afghancultureunveiled[dot]com