Here’s a short break from some of this week’s (and possibly….year’s) doom and gloom: on Wednesday, the New York Times wrote a lovely piece about a 10-kilometer race in Somaliland that’s become popular with women, despite extreme gender disparity in the region.
Somaliland, a self-declared state in northwestern Somalia, has a significant gender gap (not to mention a long history of female genital mutilation), with a 2019 study finding women were “comprehensively disadvantaged compared to men in terms of economics, politics and education.” Women have “less than half the opportunities afforded to men,” the study concluded; they were twice as likely as men to be out of work, they were twice as likely to receive little to no education, and they were much less likely than men to end up in a leadership or political position.
There is, however, the aforementioned 10-kilometer race, which is part of a larger annual education fundraiser conference in Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital. The race has been attracting some women runners over the years, which the Times says is a noteworthy sign that the gender gap is closing ever so slightly:
In 2018, the first year of the event, only 13 women competed in the 10-kilometer race, and only five of those were Somali. This year, 55 Somali women ran in the event, out of 63 female competitors.
Edna Adan, a former foreign minister in Somaliland and a pioneer activist in the struggle to end female genital mutilation, sees this as an important sign.
A former runner herself, the 82-year-old Ms. Adan, founder of a respected maternity hospital, said it was important to remind Somali female runners that what mattered was “the training they did, the preparation they made and the ability that they could keep up with women of different countries.”
The race is about reminding young girls that their gender or nationality isn’t “a handicap” to their own success, Ms. Adan said.
Women are also reportedly starting to participate in soccer leagues, self-defense classes, swimming, yoga, and basketball. Generally, it’s becoming more common for women to exercise and build strength in public. As Savannah Simons, who works for the 10-kilometer race, said, “It’s slowly becoming normal to see a girl running.”
So, while Americans are stuck in our homes waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for an opportunity to move freely, it’s nice to remember that things are still moving out in the world.