With a fist in the air, Shannon Galpin treks war-torn territory in a fight for something bigger than her. She has answered the calling of becoming the architect for a new perception of feminism and natural rights for women everywhere - a quest she has undertaken for over a decade. A National Geographic Adventurer and author/creator of Mountain2Mountain, Shannon is consistently contributing to the shifting of the paradigm that plagues humanity globally.
At Daughters of the Road, the unifying vision is to cultivate a community that inspires, empowers, and supports women in motorcycle culture-- thereby breaking the gender barriers that still exist today. Through this mission, we have been amazed with the connection achieved to women of the same beliefs and, moreover, who are fighting for the same ideals of advancing women’s rights, but on a global scale. One recent response that stood out to us was that of a National Geographic Adventurer and cyclist who, over a decade ago, went from being the first woman to cycle through Afghanistan, to a woman who leads a pack of girls on bicycles through its war-ravaged and critically-oppressed streets.
Shannon’s intense passion for the betterment of humanity began when she was just a wide-eyed and spirited teenager, who had an avid obsession for sports training. Her world was turned on it’s head one poignant night when she was eighteen. The routine of walking home from work at night was disrupted with a random and vicious attack, during which she was raped and left for dead. As if her own adversity was not enough, she had to act as a confidant later to her sister who was victim to a campus rape. Shannon’s resiliency continues to be tested as she endures the repercussions of being involved in such scarring events.
It wasn’t until 2009 that she publicly recounted her experience for Dateline NBC, during an interview featuring her work with women in Afghanistan. It takes truly digging at your core being, and developing a keen understanding of the roots to your darkest problems in order to understand your development in life. The trauma she experienced as a teenager rose to the surface. Shannon had a fierce desire to understand the ingredients that created widespread oppression in women’s rights globally… and in her words, “what better way than to start in the worst place for women’s rights?”.
Afghanistan consistently is ranked as one of the worst countries in which to be a woman. A deeply rooted patriarchal society still persists, which enforces mandates based on an extremist interpretation of Islam. Women remain voiceless and are viewed as objects that men either desire, hate, or often both.
During her cycling expedition across the both picturesque and formidable country in 2010, she visited the Kandahar women’s prison and was given a silver barrette by one of the incarcerated. This woman was raped by a male in her family and thereafter being deliberately jailed for adultery by her own family, leading to her living out her days in a cell. This label of “adulterer” is often the preferable choice when faced with the other option: death. Tragically, this case is not unique, but one of a staggering many. Countless women spend their time in jail indicted on the very same issue.
Angered and fueled by her encounters from the many stories that mirror this one, Shannon began volunteering at shelters where women could learn to support themselves after being freed from jail, serving as a confidant and motivator for the women who must recover from such injustices.
A brutal truth was exposed when the President of Afghanistan began to shut down the shelters, falsely identifying them as “brothels” based on rumors muttered from lips of the Taliban. Shannon sought out support from the minister for women’s affairs about the demise of women’s shelter and education programs, but was disappointed when the minister designated the victims as “bad women”. She was just beginning to realize the corruption and adversity that these women must face daily under the thumb of the patriarchal ideals of Afghan society.
Shannon was reluctant to leave such a beautiful country on that note. Equipped with a strong background in cycling, she made it her mission to get women in these areas on bicycles - a small seed planted that she soon hoped would blossom into a greater movement in women’s rights. Shannon created Mountain2Mountain, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to amplify the voices of women and girls through access to education, the power of street art, the solidarity of activism, and the freedom of the bicycle. It is within the freedom of independent mobility (something that we have the luxury of taking for granted) that these women find some solace. Shannon shares that these women consistently receive the standard double-take as they courageously weave their bikes through the treacherous streets of Afghanistan. Because it is considered an obscene display for a woman to be casually straddling and pedaling a bicycle, women often receive both insults and rocks thrown in their direction. Such a culture is innately threatened by the idea of women having the freedom to control their own decisions and movements, and this fear causes a barrage of backlash that these women must combat daily.
We asked Shannon to share a bit of the history of these women who dare to stand up against centuries of oppressive tradition:
Many of the women have lost their male role models due to the war that, for many of them, has spanned a majority of their lifetimes. The remaining members of their families are genuinely supportive of the advancement of these particular girls. Shannon says she sees a new culture forming. Boys with curiosity in their eyes often speak of going home and teaching their sisters how to ride. Images such as these give Shannon the hope for progress that she needs to press on in her noble endeavors. Currently she is attempting to form a national female cycling team in Afghanistan.
After being so moved by how Shannon has positively affected these women, one question burned within us:
How do we take such commitment to the advancement of women and apply it to our own culture?
It is easy to ignore the issues of a culture existing literally half a world away. Shannon implores women in western nations to recall an age in our histories where women were fighting against the very same issues that continue to persisting in the Middle East.
When asked to reflect on how our society needs to react and adapt to the growing apathy toward the feminist movement, Shannon responded that women today need to “own” their feminism. She mused on the fact that the word “feminism” has become almost synonymous with “manhater”, and in a pursuit to distance themselves from this, women have become polarized on the issue.
Moreover, she added that attention needs to be paid to the men behind the movement. Men who support women should be celebrated. “Feminist men are not threatened by strong women,” Shannon stated bluntly. Spreading a trend like this starts by raising men who accept women as equals. Attesting to the fact that women are strong does not make a man weak, and that idea must be emphasized.
Oppression against women still manifests itself in our culture in ways that have evolved so as to be more-subtle and, therefore, harder to combat. The sexualized nature of women portrayed in the media, the consistent trolling of public figures on the internet and the prevalence of mistreatment of victims of sexual assault are all issues that Shannon feels should be paid the same attention that the women’s suffrage movement obtained back in the early twentieth century.
This sociological discourse left us compelled to discuss one of the most relevant, and alarming, topics currently running rampant in our society: the lack of urgency society has adopted revolving around sexual assault cases. Shannon shared with us that she feels society needs to begin to believe women who are victims in these cases. The word “rape” is so stigmatized that society has developed an inability to discuss the issue and has alienated those who need the most support: the victims. If we move forward in this arena, a huge leap can be made in society’s progression of equal rights for women.
For change to occur, we must first adopt a sense of unity with other women. Upon the foundation of sisterhood, a dialogue may begin pertaining to the epidemic of voiceless women worldwide. Furthermore, the men who are setting the examples for the equal treatment of women need to be illuminated and revered. Most importantly, women need to believe and listen to one another. A deeper understanding for each other is essential in igniting the flame necessary for a revolution.
Daughters of the Road proudly stands as a platform to express these sentiments, and hope to be a resource for women seeking to come together under the umbrella of gasoline culture. Shannon Galpin may have been inspired by the mission of our initiative, but her dedication to the women of Afghanistan and her commitment to the betterment of women worldwide has made her one of our role models.