An Egyptian race was recently held in the capital of Cairo as a way to campaign against violence towards women and advocate for the acceptance of women running in public places.
The eight-kilometer Egyptian race was the first of its kind and drew the support of hundreds of women runners. It took place in the Heliopolis neighborhood of Cairo.
Last year, the Thomson Reuters Foundation conducted a poll that found Cairo to be the world’s most dangerous “megacity” for women. This ranking was based on information in four key areas: access to healthcare, economic opportunities for women, protection from sexual violence, and harmful cultural practices.
The poll involved 380 experts in women’s issues from 19 different megacities (defined as cities with populations of 10 million or more). The experts were asked questions regarding how their cities fared in terms of issues for women. Karachi, Pakistan, Kinshasa, DR Congo and Delhi, India were close after Cairo in the rankings.
According to women’s rights campaigners within the city, old traditions are to blame for the harmful atmosphere. Any steps that might prove to be progressive for women are nearly impossible due to this strong attachment to tradition.
Shahira Amin, an Egyptian journalist, has explained that every aspect of living in Cairo has proven to be challenging for women. Even simply walking down the street subjects women to harassment and abuse.
“Everything about the city is difficult for women. We see women struggling in all aspects. Even a simple walk on the street, and they are subjected to harassment, whether verbal or even physical,” Amin stated.
A video released by BBC has sought to define street harassment for women around the world and open conversation on the issue, which has proven to be universal. According to the video, street harassment can include anything from whistling to honking to unwanted sexual touching.
Because of this extreme risk of street harassment, publicly running or practicing any sport within the Cairo is nearly impossible for women. One runner, Amany Khalil, finished the race in under 39 minutes and stated: “I came to this race today so that all women can run in the street without any fears or worries.”
One runner, Yasmin Mamdouh, who ran alongside her sister, explained why the Egyptian race was so important to her: “This is the first event for girls only. It’s to say we can do anything and run freely, and do what they do, boys. No one can bother us and stop us from doing what we want.”
A race of this nature is revolutionary in Cairo. While there is no doubt that the city has a long way to go before women feel comfortable and safe, the eight-kilometer Egyptian race took a stand and made an important point: women should be able to run, be healthy, and live their lives in public without fear of being harmed.
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