My guest blog on UN Women NY, for women’s history month! Here is the link to Herstory and below is the full original text:
A couple days ago I bought a magazine on women’s running as I was boarding a long haul flight and I enjoy reading about women who take charge of their life and their body. This edition had a distinctly feminist article on women runners who bravely fought oppressive forces that told them women can’t, shouldn’t and aren’t physically built to run any distance, certainly not a marathon, and did it anyway. It told the story of a series of amazing women, beginning in Greece in the 19th century, who decided for themselves that they are strong enough to run and went at it despite serious backlash.
One woman wasn’t allowed into the Athens marathon so she ran beside it the entire way and finished in just over 4 hours. The article told the famous story of K.W. Switzer who signed up to the Boston Marathon in 1967 when women were not allowed to enter. The officials later discovered that K stood for Katherine and tried to physically remove her from the race.
She was protected by her boyfriend and a number of male runners who eventually ran beside her the entire distance to ensure the Boston Marathon officials couldn’t catch her again. Finally, in 1972 women were allowed to compete and Switzer went on to win 1st place in the 1974 NY marathon.
The article told the story of Paula Radcliffe who resumed her training schedule 12 days after giving birth to her daughter and won the NY marathon 10 months later. The list of female athletes who broke through barriers and stood fast against stereotypes, stigma and patriarchy goes on.
These stories are important ones and should be told and retold, lest we forget that what women have today, the right to vote, the right to run, the right to receive an education, have been hard won. It’s even more important in light of the fact that in many places in the world, women are still struggling to gain even the most basic rights, such as in Saudi Arabia where they aren’t allowed to drive. And that in some places women are still viewed as commodities, to be bought and sold at the whim of their male family members, such as in Afghanistan which boasts one of the highest levels of child marriage in the world. And it’s important because in some places girls and young women are still struggling to protect their own bodies from an excision blade. And it’s important because of girls like Malala Yousefzai from Pakistan who stood up for her right to receive an education and was consequently brutally shot in the head. She is the youngest nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize in history.
For these reasons and more, we choose to celebrate women’s history month. However, this should not be viewed as a walk down memory lane, but as a living breathing testament to the struggle we are still facing to gain our rightful place beside those who have power over our bodies and over our choices. This struggle for equality, respect and protection goes on all the time, everywhere in the world, and we would do well to learn from the stories of brave women and girls who wouldn’t’ take no for an answer.