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Women Cyclists Push Limits in Afghan Society

Coach Sadiqi talks during training on February 20, 2015. The women's cycling team is pushing ahead, despite not having been paid for several months, a problem for many Afghan athletes. To clock the distances needed for training, team members pile their bikes in cars and drive outside the capital, where their uniform of loose-fitting tops and long pants won't draw stares.

Members of Afghanistan's Women's National Cycling Team are seen during an exercise on a snowy mountain in Qargha on the outskirts of Kabul on March 9.

Afghanistan’s Women's National Cycling Team has been breaking new ground for women's sports and pushing the boundaries of what is - and is not - acceptable for young women in the conservative Muslim country.

Mohammad Ismail / X02863

Masooma Alizada and Zahra Alizada, exercise on the outskirts of Kabul on Feb. 20.

Under the Taliban in the 1990s, women in Afghanistan were excluded from public life, banned from going to school or stepping outside their home without a male family member. Women's rights have made gains since the hardline Islamist group's ouster in 2001, but observers worry that progress is at risk as gender-based violence persists and women remain under-represented in politics.

Mohammad Ismail / X02863

Zhala, Maryam Sediqi and Malika Yousufi (right) walk in Kabul on Feb. 20.

Mohammad Ismail / X02863

Membersof Afghanistan's Women's National Cycling Team have breakfast with their coach, Abdul Sadiq Sadiqi, in Kabul on Feb. 20. Female athletes often face family pressure and patchy public support. Last year, the women's cricket team was quietly dissolved amid Taliban threats and a shortage of players.

Mohammad Ismail / X02863

Masooma Alizada exercises on a treadmill in Kabul on Feb. 20.

Mohammad Ismail / X02863

Coach Sadiqi talks during training on Feb. 20.

The women's cycling team is pushing ahead, despite not having been paid for several months, a problem for many Afghan athletes. To clock the distances needed for training, team members pile their bikes in cars and drive outside the capital, where their uniform of loose-fitting tops and long pants won't draw stares.

Mohammad Ismail / X02863

Masooma Alizada eats an orange after training on the outskirts of Kabul on Feb. 20.

Mohammad Ismail / X02863

Zhala as seen through a teammate’s bike exercises on the roads outside Kabul.

Mohammad Ismail / X02863

The cycling team exercises on a snowy mountain in Qargha on March 9. More than 40 women train with the group, and the core team has competed in several international competitions.

Mohammad Ismail / X02863

Masooma Alizada (left) and Frozan Rasooli (right), prepare a bicycle before training on Feb. 20.

Mohammad Ismail / X02863

Zhala and the team cycle through the outskirts of Kabul. Coach Sadiqi acts as a shield for the women during training. Even so, drivers sometimes shout profanities at the riders, and their team captain grapples with a back injury from a crash after a man on a motorbike reached out to grab her.

Mohammad Ismail / X02863