In Hargeisa, the capital of the breakaway province of Somaliland, the third annual Somaliland Marathon took place in February, with more than three hundred entrants in the 42.2-kilometer marathon and 10-kilometer race. What was different this time round was that sixty-three of the participants were women, fifty-five of them Somali citizens. The marathon started out as an education fundraiser but has also served as a means of cultural outreach for the province, which seceded from Somalia in 1991 but is not recognized internationally as a sovereign entity. Runners from sixteen countries flew into Hargeisa to participate in the marathon.
Why It Matters
More women join in the race each year, a sign of improving social standing for women in a region that is traditionally patriarchal. Somaliland’s former foreign minister and a steadfast activist against female genital mutilation, Edna Adan, sees the rise in female participation as a positive sign of improvement for Somali women. Speaking with The New York Times, Adan said that the race was a reminder for Somali girls and women that their gender or nationality should not be a handicap for success.
An Oxfam study found that Somali women face greater obstacles in pursuing public office, are twice as likely to be unemployed than men, and are less likely than men to reach higher levels of education. These and other gender-influenced limitations hinder Somalia’s development and place it at a disadvantage compared with its neighbors in the Horn of Africa. Events such as this normalize the idea of women performing activities beyond domestic work and encourage young women to pursue tertiary education and a professional career.