Women's cycling team pushes past roadblocks in Afghanistan

Sat Mar 7, 2015 1:31pm EST
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By Krista Mahr and Mirwais Harooni

KABUL (Reuters) - Malika Yousufi lined her bike up alongside her teammates on a lonely road outside the Afghan capital, getting ready for her weekly training ride away from the disapproving stares of Kabul.

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

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 violence against women persists and women remain under-represented in politics.

"We are resolved to keep our commitments to women and we will protect and reinforce our achievements," President Ashraf Ghani's office said in a statement released after the president made a speech ahead of International Women's Day on March 8.

While Afghanistan's national men's cricket and football teams have enjoyed the spotlight, women's sports have made more halting progress, with athletes facing family pressure and patchy public support.

Last year, the women's cricket team was quietly dissolved amid Taliban threats and a shortage of players.

The women's cycling team is pushing ahead, despite not having been paid for several months, a problem for many Afghan athletes.   Continued...