The brisk early morning hours of Friday saw hundreds of runners hit Cairo’s streets to honour International Women’s Day on 8 March.
The run in the Maadi district was organised by Egypt’s leading running community, Cairo Runners, along with UN Women and UNICEF Egypt.
"Today it is not important that we run fast, it's important that we run together," teacher Georgina Dean told her young seven-year-old students at the starting line.
The teacher and her students were among hundreds who gathered at the start of the running route at 7am. Many were wearing a white head cap bearing the logo of UNICEF and International Women's Day.
"It is always exciting to feel the pulse of energy in these crowds, early in the morning, when the streets are empty and everybody is just brimming with enthusiasm," Heba Tukali, a participant, told Ahram Online.
The 5km route started at the river side in Maadi with the usual group warm-ups, before venturing into the streets of the district itself.
Many of the younger participants were carrying placards, or had stapled them to their clothes, bearing slogans supporting gender equality and women's rights.
International Women’s Day was first celebrated by the UN in 1975.
"UNICEF and UN Women are holding this special run to mark this year’s International Women’s Day, which also coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on women’s empowerment," Hala Abu Khatwa, head of communication at UNICEF Egypt told Ahram Online.
"We cooperated with Cairo Runners to organise a run which brings together all ages, young women side by side with young men, fathers, mothers and children. We believe in the potential and power of young people, and UNICEF in partnership with Masrawy have launched a dedicated platform that brings together young people’s initiatives,” she said.
“The aim of this platform is to advocate for volunteering work and shed light on young people’s efforts. Cairo Runners are part of the participating initiatives in this platform," added Abu Khatwa.
Abu Khatwa argues that while a lot has been achieved in Egypt in terms of empowering women and girls in terms of providing them with equal opportunities in education and the workplace, disparities exist between urban and rural areas, and that there are many cultural norms that don’t allow girls and women to fulfill their potential.
Incidents of sexual harassment and violence against women are widely reported Egypt, and female genital mutilation is still common despite laws banning the practice. A recent study released by UNICEF and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood put the number of girls subjected to FGM at 65% in Cairo, 39% in Alexandria and 94% in Assiut.
Cairo Runners' & UNICEF Women Day Run ( All Photos by: Ingy Deif)
Engi Hassaan, one of the organisers of Cairo Runners, told Ahram Online that the group is dedicated to raising awareness about socially worthy causes
"We have run before many times to raise awareness about diabetes, breast cancer, and to reach out on behalf of the less privileged.
"Today, it is an honour and we consider it of great importance that we join the efforts of UNICEF and UN Women in Egypt to commemorate International Women’s Day,” she said, adding that the group had held a running event in support of ending violence against women, with the support of UN Women.
In a country where jogging is yet to catch on, Cairo Runners have been forging ahead by organising group runs around the capital. The group has over 318,000 likes on Facebook, and their regular runs typically attract around 3,000 participants.