An American group dedicated to promoting freedom for female Muslim athletes has funded a trip for nine women to fly over and ride a seven day cycling event.
The Muslim athletes from around the world will ride with a team of American school friends, now celebrating their 50th birthdays – with the aim of promoting female sports participation as a fundamental right.
Shirzanan Global was set up to empower Muslim women through sports and media – Shirzanan is Persian for “female heroes” and describes the team’s aims perfectly.
Co-founder Mara Gunuan is part of the group of school friends who will ride with the athletes, and all of the American women are using the ride to celebrate their milestone birthdays.
The team, Team Shirzanan, are currently three days into the RAGBRAI – The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Covering almost 500 miles, it takes place over seven days, and will end on Saturday 25th July.
The athletes riding with the American ladies range from Jordonian cyclist Amani Ammoura, and Egyptian cyclist Rehab Shawky, to Afghani soccer player Hajar Abulfazl and Iranian snowborader/surfer Mona Seraji.
Nanci Free, who works with Shirzanan Global, said: “We wanted to identify and partner with women who had already broken the stereotypes. They come to represent that it is possible.”
The team is being led by Shannon Galpin – a human rights activist, mountain-biker, adventurer and board advisor for Shirzanan Global. She works with the Afghan women’s cycling team, and has came up against obstructions along the way [hear her story here].
Shirzanan Global chose a bike race because they believe cycling can offer freedom that is often restricted, they explain: “In some parts of the world, a female riding a bicycle is considered a morality crime. People often throw rocks at girls on bikes or use vehicles to try to run them off the road. In oppressive nations, bicycling offers a freedom not granted to women. On RAGBRAI, we will celebrate our right to ride.
“Riding a bicycle is not just a mode of transportation. It is means to independence and improvements.”
The ride will be a huge physical challenge for the American women, as well as a social statement. Sue Thomas, from Marion, Iowa said: “I think it will be extremely challenging and then also I have a partner who is a global cyclist from Jordan, I’m her American partner, so that should be challenging because I’m sure she’ll be a lot better than me.”
She added: “This is probably one of the most diverse teams they’ve ever had… so that should be kind of historical.”