Breaking barriers, Somali women run

Runners stretching

Female runners at Mogadishu's shelled-out Konis Stadium

The news from Somalia is often heartrending and horrible. The country is experiencing an unprecedented famine and a great deal of instability and violence.

But today, I bring you all some good news from Somalia. This year, for the first time, the Somali Athletics Federation will select one female runner from a field of 10 to compete in the 400-metres at the London Olympics.

From IRIN global news:

The youngest of those currently training in Mogadishu is Najma, 10. She started running six months ago, shortly after Al-Shabab left the city. “My father encouraged me,” said Najma.

She knows she is lucky – most girls in Somalia do not enjoy such freedom. The head coach of the Athletics Federation, Ahmed Ali Abikar, said it is very difficult for female athletes in Mogadishu to train. “Society doesn’t understand about sport for girls. They cannot train everywhere, they are teased. But they know why they’re doing it,” he said.

Najma and Leila, 15, meet every Saturday to race around the 400m track at the bullet-ridden Konis Stadium in downtown Mogadishu, a city which until August 2011 was occupied by Al-Shabab insurgents.

I’m so inspired by the tenacity of girls all around the world to follow their dreams and (in this case, literally) chase them down. Let these young women be a reminder to us all: girls are agents of change and we would do well to follow their lead.

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