Afghanistan’s only female marathon runner

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Taking steps towards gender equality one run at a time, 25-year-old Zainab* took part in Afghanistan’s first marathon in October this year. Among around 35 runners, she was the only woman to compete. Zainab's mission is to inspire other women, especially women in Afghanistan, to have hope for the future and explore new possibilities.

Zainab told The Guardian she knew she would be in danger by taking on the marathon. She only managed to complete one day of training in the streets because cars stopped in attempts to kidnap her, children threw stones and onlookers shouted nasty comments, calling her a 'prostitute' and saying she was 'destroying Islam.'

Fortunately, the marathon took place in Bamiyan, one of Afghanistan's safest provinces. Zainab said the people who live in Bamiyan are more open-minded and accepting of women’s rights.

The day before the marathon, Zainab went climbing to build her strength by training in altitude. However when she started the race she developed a problem with her breathing. Zainab was worried she wouldn’t complete the marathon but then she realised ‘everything is in your mind, you don’t need lots of training.’ This ruthless belief enabled Zainab to power through and complete the marathon. 

Zainab currently attends university and her plans for the future are to bring change for the women of Afghanistan. 'When I go to university and see the girls, all of them are really quiet. They don't laugh. I invite them to laugh, to be happy. I think, little by little, I bring change.'