Unleashing the Power of Cycling for the SDGs: From Personal Liberation to Collective Action

UNDP Syria
3 min readSep 17, 2023
Asma’ participating in a bike ride with UNDP Syria staff and families marking the World Bike Day and advocating for the SDGs | ©Road Ride Syria

By: Asma’ Nashawati, UNDP Syria Communications Associate and Gender Champion

When I reminisce about my childhood, one memory stands out vividly, colouring my normally monochromatic world with joy and freedom — the transformative experience of learning to ride a bike. Growing up a girl in a conservative community, bound by many rules and sheltered by overprotective parents, cycling became my escape, my declaration of independence, a symbol of self-discovery and breaking free from the constraints that held me back.

With the turbulent times of successive crises we lived through in Syria and in the wake of the uncertainty of the aftermath, when tensions ran high and hardships loomed, cycling became more than just a recreational activity or a means of transportation; it became my refuge for physical and mental well-being. Cycling through the crowded streets offered me a unique perspective on the scars of war etched upon the faces of people in their everyday lives. I got to witness my city from a different point of view. The scars of conflict were not just physical, but also emotional and spiritual, leaving imprints that words alone could not convey. I also witnessed the resilience and determination of individuals who probably had endured unimaginable hardships.

Cycling took on a whole new dimension when I discovered the power of riding in a group. The collective energy of like-minded individuals of different genders and ages fuelled our journeys and created a platform for breaking barriers in all aspects of life. The presence of inspiring women breaking gender barriers created a powerful backdrop of empowerment. Through our shared experiences, fearlessly pedalling together through the urban landscape, we amplified our voices, promoted equality, and inspired other women to unleash a newfound spirit of liberation.

UNDP Syria staff and families marking the World Bike Day with a bike ride in Damascus advocating for the SDGs | ©Road Ride Syria

As World Bicycle Day approached, I reached out to a few like-minded colleagues who have not tried group cycling yet and casually asked if they would be interested in a bike ride in Damascus that includes other UNDP colleagues and their family members. I was pleased when many expressed their interest in joining. In a matter of a week, word got around, and the colleagues’ enthusiasm was compelling even though it was planned very early on a Friday morning (weekend).

Each colleague had their own reasons to join, be it well-being, promoting climate action, or gender equality. In the end, what is better than the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure that no one is left behind and to embody our commitment to equality and progress? The agreement was synonymous. UNDP Syria will ride for the SDGs because even in times of crisis, it is crucial to advocate for the SDGs, mainly focusing on good health and well-being (Goal 3), gender equality (Goal 5), reduced inequalities (Goal 10), sustainable cities and communities (Goal 11), climate action (Goal 13), and life on land (Goal 15).

On the morning of the ride, I was happy to see the great turnout and meet the families of my colleagues. I was impressed by the confidence of our youngest cyclist, eight years old! Word got around to other agencies, and we were more than happy to welcome them.

UNDP Syria staff and families marking the World Bike Day with a bike ride in Damascus advocating for the SDGs | ©Road Ride Syria

So, whether you are a seasoned cyclist or someone rediscovering the joys of biking, dust off your bikes, push past boundaries, and embark on a journey that extends beyond the physical; a journey towards fostering a world where peace, equality, inclusivity, and resilience prevail. Let us remember the transformative power that biking holds. Beyond being an environmentally friendly mode of transportation and a smart economic choice, it represents a chance to reflect on the profound personal impact it can have, a reminder to embrace the rebellious spirit within us and challenge the limitations imposed on us.