Imagine a world where riding a bicycle is a negative, even shameful act if you are female. Something as innocuous as cycling causing so much offence seems far-fetched, but a hundred years ago cycling was almost exclusively a man’s activity, here’s a great blog that outlines how bicycles played a significant part in supporting the Suffragette movement. Thanks to the efforts of those women who wouldn’t be restricted by social convention, we can now take cycling for granted as just another mode of transport regardless of gender. However, not everyone the world over has that privilege. Right now, girls and women who ride bicycles are breaking some serious rules in Afghanistan.
In the documentary film Afghan Cycles, director Susie Menzies profiles an unlikely group of women who forge the Afghan cycling team, charting their genesis in a nation that is openly hostile toward women riding bikes. But this film more than just a flattering portrait of a few mavericks because Menzies makes the connection between a high profile national team and the everyday struggle of girls and women outside of the capital Kabul. In these smaller, regional communities the stakes are higher because the personal risk is far greater when a girl or woman defies the cultural and social norms of their gender.
Of course Menzies spends time profiling the Afghan women’s cycling team — that’s the headline story. The women on that team are breaking the mould at a national level. But what really stretches the imagination is the a deeper narrative of a society that has yet to let go of the same social and cultural taboos that existed here too at one time. As a creative storyteller, Menzies uncovers a deeper significance to the subjected by bringing to life the bicycle as a symbol of female emancipation for girls and women in Afghanistan.