Last Sunday, the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa was the scene of the 2012 CHOICE Women First 5km race. Almost 9,000 women and girls participated in the ninth edition of the event, which was organised on the occasion of International Women's Day.
The CHOICE Women First 5km, organised by Great Ethiopian Run, is the biggest women-only event in Ethiopia and, as such, a platform for the promotion of women's issues. "Today we celebrate achievements like improved access to education for girls and the higher number of women who own land and have climbed the social ladder as a result," says Ane Etxebarria, a gender specialist working in Ethiopia.
"But it is also a day to remember that there is still much work to do. Civil society and local authorities have a crucial role to play in promoting women's rights, building the bridge between policy and practice, facilitating changes and making a difference." The main message of this year's event: 'Empowering women to make a difference'.
In a country with a strong running tradition, some see the race as a stepping stone for young and emerging athletes. Mereke and Hana, 15-years-old girls who had been training hard for this race, said they train three days a week with a sports club, not counting their individual training efforts. They would like to become professionals and have the opportunity to compete on an international level.
For most of the participants, however, the race was simply about having fun. Melat, a member of a hashing group: "Hashers are a bunch of people who meet on Saturdays to run in the countryside outside Addis. After that we celebrate with beer and dancing. Running is a good excuse to meet and have fun. But today is also about campaigning for our rights."