BEIRUT: “We love you Nadine!” the emcee shouted Sunday at the Beirut Marathon Association’s Women’s Race. “She’s running to fight cancer ... We hope to see you at the finish line, Nadine.”
Nearly 10,000 people sprinted, jogged or casually strolled through Downtown Beirut as part of the Women’s Race Sunday morning.
Enveloped in the swarm, Nadine was joined by women of all ages promoting all sorts of causes, from Lebanon’s only female presidential candidate Nadine Moussa to the outspoken leadership at Kafa, the women’s rights group that was instrumental in pushing a domestic abuse law through Parliament.
While the largely pink-clad participants voiced a wide variety of reasons for joining the event, all professed a desire to support women in Lebanon and throughout the region.
“I am here for all women who are suffering from inequality,” said Noura Hallaq, a lawyer who ran with a group from the Beirut Bar Association. “In Lebanon there are still many laws which are unfair to women, like the fact that Lebanese women can’t pass their nationality to their children, or unequal pay between men and women. It is for these fundamental rights that I ran today,” she said, her face still flushed from completing the race.
Eating an apple near the finish line, Marc said he was proud to participate in the Women’s Race.
“I think that all the men in Lebanon should come and run, especially men ... because Arab societies are often machismo,” he said, adding that he hoped this would change one day.
Marc was one of thousands of men who participated in the event this year. Last year men were barred from participating in the event, which drew just over 4,000 participants.
“This year we decided to have men join as well to show their support [for women’s rights],” said May al-Khalil, president of the Beirut Marathon Association.
However, she said she was not surprised by the large number of male participants.
James Cranwell-Ward, who works with UNICEF, said it was important for his organization to show support for women, who are often children’s primary caregivers. “We thought it was good to show solidarity for women, and to show that we [UNICEF] are here for them as well.”
Cranwell-Ward said the impressive turnout at the Women’s Race also highlighted how many Lebanese were willing to stand behind important causes. “I think it shows that Beirut is pretty diverse,” he told The Daily Star. “It’s not all cars and chilling out. People do get together ... and get involved in community events.”
A young woman, Luma, said she hoped the race would help change archaic attitudes about women’s roles in society. “Here [at the race] people will see women with a different eye. They will see strong, powerful women. They [women] shouldn’t just be the baby makers of the family, or play the typical female role in the kitchen. We are much more than that,” she said.
Written across T-shirts and banners, slogans denounced things like child marriage and marital rape or called for more women in government. There were more than 61 organizations espousing various causes, but a jovial camaraderie reigned as people jogged the 5- and 10-kilometer races. Giant puppets bounced along and towered over the participants, groups of women pushed children’s strollers, and music – from dabkeh to techno – blared a new tune every 100 meters.
Along the shorter race, less serious athletes added to the lightness of Sunday’s event, as women took breaks to relace their heeled sneakers or to smoke nargileh by the seaside with friends.
Farah said she hoped the event would also show the world that Lebanese women were empowered. “We’re not oppressed like everyone thinks,” she said, wiping the sweat from her forehead.
Some 30 ambassadors participated in the event, Khalil said, a sign of the positive atmosphere prevailing in Beirut this spring. “It was really a beautiful thing to see them on the streets of Beirut without feeling threatened,” she added.
The EU ambassador to Lebanon, Angelina Eichhorst, also ran the race with a group of students from Khansa Public School in Shehim.
“The Beirut Marathon is an example of how people get together, and how they take to the streets of Beirut in a peaceful manner,” Maria Sanchez of the EU delegation said as she waited for Eichhorst to finish the race. “Equality for women has been one of [Eichhorst’s] priorities since she arrived in Lebanon: more political representation, more protection against violence, more civil rights.” Sanchez added.