The next time you’re too tired to train, or it’s too wet to run, count yourself lucky you’ve actually got a choice. Why? Because this female Afghan runner had the ultimate ‘get out of running’ clause: running could actually kill her and harm her family, but she defied it and has become a worldwide phenomenon…
Her name is Zainab and she ran her first official marathon last month in her home nation, Afghanistan. Zainab, 25, was the only female national to complete the run. She ran with a team from freetorun.org, an organisation that uses physical fitness to empower and educate females from conflict-affected areas. Afghan women have completed marathons in other countries before, but Zainab was the first to do it on her home turf.
Human Rights Violations
Over 60 amateur and professional runners from all over the world participated in the race. In addition to Zainab, about a dozen girls from nearby schools ran too, each completing the shorter 10K race. So, in percentage terms these feisty females made up 20% of all the runners, and their demonstration of unity and defiance against a country with a terrible human rights record was beyond brave. Each female Afghan runner literally risked their life to compete. According to Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan has violated numerous International Human Rights Acts and women’s rights in the country continue to be disregarded. It’s a country where family members are exempt from testifying in domestic violence cases against women, where women can be prosecuted for ‘moral crimes’ and where high-profile women are frequently subject to attacks and assassinations.
In Afghanistan, women are at risk simply by walking somewhere alone. Zainab spent a year training and endured countless incidents of street harassment while she did. She ran an unofficial marathon as part of her training and was subject to abuse. Children stoned her and people called her a prostitute as she passed them. Her training partner’s father stopped his daughter from running after that, leaving Zainab to train alone. So as the event drew nearer she trained at home, running thousands of circuits in the safety of her back yard.
The Next Challenge – Inspire Young Afghan Runners
Now Zainab has completed the marathon she has risen to a new challenge – visiting Afghan women and girls to inspire them to take up running, smiling and laughing, something she reports they don’t feel able to do. She describes the girls as all ‘really quiet’ saying, ‘I invited them to laugh, to be happy.’ Zainab’s family are proud of her, and now her mum and sisters join in with training at home.
So, if you’re sticking by your weak excuse to forego your next training session, think of Zainab the courageous female Afghan runner and do it for yourself, for Zainab and for those countless women too oppressed to exercise.