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Girls in Somalia train for the Olympics

At the Summit on Somalia held during February in London, the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron urged the international community to increase its efforts and commitments towards Somalia.

Speaking after the London Conference, the Prime Minister of Somalia, Dr. Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, hailed the event as an important support to Somalis. He expressed his hope that Somalia was beginning to ‘turn the corner’ and ‘build foundations for a prosperous future’.

Though the country continues to face huge obstacles to stability, hopeful signs of normality are emerging in the capital Mogadishu. The news agency IRIN reports on the work of the Somali Athletics Federation in preparing the country’s athletes for this year’s Olympics. In particular, the IRIN article highlights the selection process for the ladies 400 metres, where Somalia will choose one female runner from a field of ten competitors.

Najma, the youngest of the ten hopefuls training for the event, is only 10 years old. Najma knows she is very lucky to be training among the female athletes. The ten-year old told IRIN “society doesn’t understand about sport for girls”. For Najma, the chance to train and race around the 400m track in the war-damaged Konis Stadium brings great joy, especially as the stadium was closed for a long time during the fighting. Najma runs alongside 15-year old Leila, who has been training for three years. With greater freedom in the capital, Leila explains that girls are now able to take part in sports such as basketball, handball and athletics.

The girls hope to be role models for women in Somalia, where the new government is seeking to gain enough women representatives in government to make up 30% of parliament. The head of the Somali Women’s Federation, Asha Omar, moved to Somalia two years ago from Sweden. She told IRIN that women were “the peace-lords” of the country. Responsible for organizing the first ever Women’s Day celebrations in Mogadishu this year, Ms Omar nevertheless understands the barriers women face in Somalia, where there are no equal rights. The clan structure of the country’s tribes has no tradition of female leadership and in Somali households, husbands and brothers expect to make decisions for females in their families.

Many of the women entering politics in Mogadishu have spent time abroad, returning with new ideas and expectations. Somali men also want to see a change in culture. The girl’s athletics trainer is Samia Yusuf Omar. He would like to train an Olympic winner who stays in the country, since in the past talented female runners have all ended up going abroad. Just like the Somali president, Samia too hopes his country has turned a corner.

Read Adeline's story, a former SOS child and now an Olympic hopeful.

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