For Negin Afshar, 16, riding a motorbike around a dirt track in Kabul, Afghanistan, isn’t just about the excitement. It is also a way to show that Afghan women can be robust too in a country where concerns are growing that hard-earned rights might be lost.
She had competed for Afghanistan in athletics when she was younger, and now, encouraged by her supporting parents, she took up motocross.
Wearing a white helmet and black and red motorbike suit, she trains with male riders on a barren lot surrounded by warehouses and private homes.
During a short break from practice, Afshar says: “When I saw the men motorcycling here, I decided to pursue motocross to inspire Afghan women and show that they can do this tough sport as well.
“I tried to be one of the first women to take this path, and I hope we can encourage others as well.”
Asked whether she was concerned about the rights of girls and women being eroded should the Taliban return to power, Afshar replied:
“God willing, this will not happen, because our government will not allow the Taliban to do so ... If they want to violate our rights, we will stand against them and resist. I will not leave my country, and I want to stay here and serve my country.”
Her mother, Frishta Afshar, head of the women’s committee of the National Motorcycling Federation of Afghanistan, agrees with her daughter claiming: “Some people do not agree with this, and they have a negative view, while others agree and encourage. In any case, my husband and I will support [our daughter] as much as we can, and we want to take Negin to the highest peaks of success.”
Miserably, for the time being, such dreams are on hold.
Sayed Nabiullah Sadat, the motorcycling federation’s president, explained that the motocross team had been invited to competitions in Iran and Malaysia, but the coronavirus pandemic had made those plans crumble.
Negin’s mother worries that pursuing this passion may not be so easy in future, with the hardline Islamist Taliban movement bidding for a share of power in a country where it has led a ruthless insurgency since 2001.
When the group ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s, not only girls were not allowed to attend school, but women could not work, and they also had to wear all-enveloping burqas when they left their homes.
In recent months the Taliban has projected itself as a more moderate group, it seeks to turn battlefield gains into formal recognition. Yet, difficult talks with a government-mandated committee remain stalled amid violence and mutual suspicion.