Life on Two Wheels: Shannon Galpin brings cycling to Afghani women
June 27, 2015
Editor's note: For countless Summit County residents, a bicycle is more than a machine — it's a lifestyle. Every week during the summer, we'll ask our most adventurous residents, "Where has your bike taken you?"
After 20 trips and countless hours spent fighting cultural taboos, Afghan women are finally able to join Shannon Galpin for a bike ride.
Galpin is founder of Mountain2Mountain, an international nonprofit the longtime Breckenridge local started nearly a decade ago to help women in conflict zones. When she first visited Afghanistan in 2008, the outreach programs were more-or-less traditional: supporting girl's education, founding an all-women Internet cafe, building a school for the deaf.
But the organization quickly evolved, and by 2009 it had become an outlet for Afghan artists and athletes. They're the "young women that are breaking barriers and using their voice to change their communities and fight for their rights," as Galpin says, and they're interested in everything from art fairs and street exhibitions to bike races.
"Bikes are the last big taboo," Galpin writes from Afghanistan, where she'll spend the next three weeks before returning to Colorado and her own young daughter. "It's incredibly controversial for girls to ride bikes in Afghanistan. I started mountain biking in Afghanistan in 2009 as a means to challenge gender barriers and make connections with Afghans. I always wondered if and when I'd see Afghan girls riding."
By 2013, the cultural tides began to shift. Galpin recalls her first bike ride with a young Afghan girl:
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"I think the most important place the bike has taken me was Afghanistan. Even more importantly, the bike has taken me into my activism, completely unexpectedly. The love of mountain biking really came full circle into fighting for women's rights and fighting against domestic violence. The bike has taken me to the worst country in the world to be a woman, and shown me the best of humanity. The most memorable trip was when I got to ride with a woman for the first time. I'd been looking for women in every village, but it was April 2013 when for the very first time I got to ride with an Afghan girl on a bike and that changed everything. Since then I have met with and rode with two other groups of girls riding as a social movement, to and from school, and to change the culture that forbids girls to ride. These girls are the bravest women I've met, and they show other Afghan girls that it is possible to ride bikes. They are still abused, harassed and insulted, but still they ride, and perhaps in a generation it will be normal for girls to ride bikes."
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