Running Competition Prompts Afghan Women to Enter Sports

Female Runners race to the finish line.
Female runners race to the finish line.
USAID
Future leaders-in-training organize first provincial race for females
“We felt that change was within our grasp.”

July 2017—“Running is a great activity, which is why many girls are interested in doing it. Unfortunately, due to socially constructed gender norms imposed on Afghan females, there are not many opportunities to explore different sports,” says Nargis Sharifi, the team facilitator of the Peace Runners.

The group was formed under USAID’s Promote Women’s Leadership Development (WLD) Jawana program, which prepares young women in Afghanistan to become leaders in business, government and civil society.

“We were discussing different ideas for a potential project,” says Khoshobo Jami, the group’s team leader. “Encouraged by the Jawana program and our course facilitator, we felt that change was within our grasp. And we knew we could not shy away from change, even when action was required to make it happen. Our group felt that certain areas of public life, like sports, were still male-dominated and support for female teams is rare. So our group decided on the project idea to organize a female running competition. We named ourselves Peace Runners.”

On Nov. 10, 2016, the Peace Runners held a women’s running competition in Herat province. Thirty-two female participants aged 17–23 ran, many of them high school and university students. To recruit runners, the Peace Runners visited local high schools, universities, libraries and other social centers. In advance of the main competition, the Runners organized qualifying races for all interested participants.

After the competition, the Herat Sports Federation asked the Peace Runners to be the federation’s official provincial running team.

“The head of the federation was excited to learn that there was so many girls interested in running,” says Jamila Azimi, a member of the Peace Runners. “He was positively surprised by how well we had organized and managed the competition. It was a great feeling to know that we were the first girls running group from Herat, and now we can represent Afghanistan in international running competitions in the future.”

The team has big plans for the future, explains Sharifi. “We will be the first official running department in Herat, and I am proud of my team for creating the department by ourselves. We designed and implemented this project to encourage girls to be brave and explore activities they are interested in, and we believe we have paved the way for them to practice sports like running.”

The Promote Women’s Leadership Development program runs from 2014 to 2019. More than 2,600 students have graduated to date from its Jawana (sapling) component for women aged 18-30.

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Last updated: July 26, 2017

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