“The bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”
— Susan B. Anthony in 1986
In Afghanistan it’s not technically illegal to ride a bicycle, but a woman riding a bicycle is a deep-seeded taboo and is seen as controversial, provocative, and immoral. In this video, Shannon Galpin, a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year and founder of Mountain2Mountain (M2M), says that girls on bicycles have been “sling-shotted, rocks are thrown at them, they’re insulted, they’re families are insulted.”
It’s all too easy for us in the U.S. to take for granted the simple freedom that comes from riding a bike—and many of us can’t imagine having to face that kind of risk every time we go out for a ride. But it’s exactly that risk that brought Shannon to Afghanistan. She wanted to find a way to empower women and girls in conflict zones, and her vehicle of change is the bicycle.
“Bikes can literally change lives. These girls have inspired me to step outside of my own boundaries, to remember that pedaling a bike is a freedom, and that that feeling of freedom that we get when we all ride bikes is at the core of creating change, is at the core of women’s rights,” Shannon said.
In 2009, Shannon became the first woman to ride a mountain bike in Afghanistan. Then in 2010 she rode her bike across the Panjshir Valley as a way to engage cycling communities in support of M2M’s projects in Afghanistan that benefited women and girls. And since then Afghan women and girls have been quietly pedaling a revolution.
Inspired by this momentum, Shannon launched Strength in Numbers, a program steeped in the “belief that one woman can make a difference but an army of women could change the world.”
And on August 30, women and men around the world will ride as one, united in the freedom of riding a bike. The Global Solidarity Ride is a powerful way to unite communities around the world on two wheels and show Afghan women that they are not alone—the world sees what they are doing and supports them.
“After five years of mountain biking in Afghanistan, its amazing to see Afghan girls starting to ride for the first time in their country’s history. Even more amazing is seeing how the global cycling community is coming together to ride bikes in solidarity with these young women that dare to ride,” Shannon said. “The bike was an integral part of the the American, English, and French women’s rights movement and these young Afghan women are pedaling a revolution of their own, our job is simply to support and encourage them!”