Sometimes the pace of social reform can be measured a mile at a time. Such is the case for three Cincinnati men who plan to bicycle thousands of miles to promote gender equality.
The Tour for Equality will take the cyclists on a trek across the continental United States and Southeast Asia, stopping along the way to speak to schools and nonprofit organizations. In the United States, the theme will be the prevention of rape. In Asia, the riders will concentrate on the illegal trafficking of women.
The tour has the support of Men Can Stop Rape, a national organization that mobilizes men to end violence against women.
Tying the message to the extreme sport of distance cycling helps to strengthen the idea that men can be macho and still support women's rights, according to Jacob Richardson, one of the riders.
"This is from such a unique perspective coming from only men, talking to men, because they are essentially the source of many of these problems," he says. "It sounded like an approach that most people haven't seen before, so that kind of intrigued me to want to join and be part of this idea."
The Tour for Equality is the brain child of Raphael Parker, who saw the value of bicycling in political discourse last year.
Registering voters from New York to Florida, he found that people's curiosity about long distance cycling acted as a conversation starter, making the bicycle a vehicle for social change.
Parker says he decided to concentrate on gender equality in response to his own apathy about the issue. After skipping over women's causes numerous times, he finally asked himself why.
"That's when I realized guys basically do skip women's rights," he says. "We don't look at it as our issue, and that's why there is inequality. Until I started looking more and more into it and the theoretic element is when I started learning more about privilege and how privilege works and how by just ignoring it, we perpetuate the system."
The Tour for Equality begins March 15 when Parker starts pedaling from United Nations headquarters in New York. His father will ride alongside him for a day, then Parker will continue solo to San Francisco, where he plans to meet the other two riders June 9.
While cycling across the U.S., Parker will stop at schools and universities to speak to young men. He is scheduled to give his first talk March 10 at his alma mater, Walnut Hills High School, speaking about rape and machismo.
"The idea is to create an image and an ideal model of a real man for these boys, something they can be proud of," he says. "Instead of them saying, 'I want to be a real man, I'm going to pimp stroll down the street and go get some bitches,' it's to give young men a vision of a real man that they can strive toward that not only doesn't rape but is a protector and actively takes the kind of steps to be a strong man, someone who's willing to stand up to allow other people their own freedom of expression."
The Asian tour begins the second week in June and takes riders through Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam and into Beijing, China, with a plan to finish by the end of August. During the tour, cyclists will average 100 miles per day through all types of weather and terrain.
That's an arduous itinerary even for Ian Harris, the third member of the team and an experienced cyclist. He admits he has some trepidation about riding on potentially treacherous dirt roads during monsoon season in Southeast Asia.
"We'll go as fast as we can and push ourselves as hard as we can to get as far as we can and we'll make it through it," he says. "I guess the ride kind of shows, if you put your mind to something, you can get it. It can occur."
Although the Tour for Equality hopes to influence people in Asia, it's inevitable that the three riders will learn something, too, according to Harris.
"I think if more Americans were able to get outside of the country and see other people and their different cultures, I think our situation within the world wouldn't be the same way it is today," he says. "There are many levels to touching people and bringing awareness to this issue, and doing it as men riding on bicycles is an especially exciting way to connect to people."
Donations from Jandd Mountaineering, Bio-Wheels in Clifton and other sponsors have taken care of most of their equipment needs, but Richardson says the trio still needs additional funding for other expenses.
Parker says support for the Tour for Equality has been inspiring.
"I have spent so many hundreds of hours writing letters, begging people for things, that there's just nothing in the world that's going to prevent me from doing this," he says. "What blows me away and what amazes me is when there are people that don't even know me that are willing to support what I'm doing with their money, because they believe in it."
To support the Tour for Equality, visit www.tourforequality.org.