Bicycle a tool of Afghan women’s lib?


American suffragist Susan B. Anthony famously said of the bicycle: It has “done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world.”
“I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel,” the feminist pioneer remarked in 1896. “It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat: and away she goes, the picture of untrammeled womanhood.”
Le' Freedom MachinePerhaps the machine that helped liberate women in America and Europe in the 1880s could have the same effect in 21st-century Afghanistan.
At least one U.S. woman bicyclist thinks so.
Shannon Galpin, a 38-year-old former Pilates instructor from Breckenridge, Colo., has begun a project to nurture an infant bicycling culture among Afghan women through a nonprofit organization called Mountain2Mountain, which she founded in 2006 to aid women in conflict zones.
Galpin, who has ridden her mountain bike extensively throughout Afghanistan during visits that began in 2008, is headed for that country today with more than 40 duffel bags filled with cycling gear for the women’s and men’s national cycling teams, The New York Times reported.
The Times quoted Galpin as saying that current attitudes toward female cyclists in Afghanistan are similar to this in the United States in the late 1800s.
“Women were often deemed promiscuous if they rode bikes in the street,” Galpin said.
wheels-of-changeThe newspapers cited Sue Macy, author of Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom, a book about the bike’s role in women’s rights. (See March 27, 2011, blog post, “Wheels of change.”)
Macy said that the sudden popularity of the “safety” bicycle, as opposed to the treacherous, high-wheeled “ordinary bike” that the safety superseded, changed how women dressed and engaged with the world.
“Since they couldn’t wear hoop skirts and corsets on a bike,” Macy was quoted as saying, “they started wearing bifurcated garments like bloomers. Instead of meeting a suitor in the parlor, they started riding around and meeting people without supervision.”
Galpin, reported the Times, hopes to influence similar changes in Afghanistan. But first the women need some proper equipment.
And that’s the reason for Galpin’s latest visit.

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