Running the World’s Biggest Women-Only Marathon in Japan

This is crazy, I thought. My heavy feet pounded against the road. It was pouring rain and the cold air clung to my damp running attire. Who comes on holiday to Japan and decides to run a 42.2 km race in the cold?

I was in pain. Sore, cold, damp and slightly limping, yet regret had never clawed its way into my mind. It was a privilege to complete the Nagoya Women’s Marathon as my first marathon and be offered the opportunity to see what my body can do.

I didn’t know much about the city of Nagoya before visiting this March, nor was I very well informed about the Nagoya Women’s Marathon. I learnt that it is regarded as the largest women’s marathon in the world. It’s also a beginner-friendly marathon, allowing participants 7 hours to complete the race.

Of the 22,000 women who ran this year, only 3,000 were from outside Japan. I strongly believe that this race deserves to be more widely known on an international level for the importance of what it represents – strong women coming together to push their limits.

The respect, honor, warmth and hospitality at the centre of Japanese culture were captured in this iconic race.

Supporters gathered at every point along the route to cheer us on – despite the rain and cold. Runners took time and effort to hand their rubbish directly to volunteers. Men showed floods of emotion as they cheered from the sidelines in eccentric outfits with encouraging hand-made signs.

I watched literal cries of joy and pride as onlookers recognized runners. I experienced the genuine warmth of strangers as I reached the last 3 kilometres, the smile and euphoria long gone from my face. They cheered me on with shouts of “you can do it!” and “almost there!”. Along the route, I found constant entertainment, support and provision. Crossing the finish line was like nothing I had ever felt before.

It was a breath-taking experience. Literally and figuratively.

It was made all the richer because of three inspiring women: Martha Morales (Mexico), Stacy Conley (USA) and Daniella Morales (Mexico).

Although we’d just met, there was such a sense of camaraderie and support between the four of us that it felt as though I were running with old friends. What a privilege it was to experience the kind of human connection that transcends nationalities, traditions, language and seemingly vast differences. Instead, it celebrates coming together and allows us to be victorious as one.

We all finished the race and celebrated as comrades. It was a heart-warming experience because of the people I was surrounded by.


Don’t get me wrong. There were at least 5 occasions along the way when I contemplated tapping out. As a first-time marathon runner, this experience was one of the toughest things I’ve ever challenged myself to do. Still, the pain is necessary. There’s power in the pain. And you let that power drive you. I saw and shared in that with all the powerful women running alongside me. I will always remember this as one of the best and most memorable experiences of my life.

This race was about something so much bigger than personal achievement. It was about celebrating in alignment with other empowered women.

People run marathons in record times all around the world every day. I didn’t break a record or overcome wildly unassailable obstacles in order to finish, or even take part in, this marathon. But that’s exactly the thing. This race wasn’t limited to celebrating what I could do on an individual level. It was so much more for me.

Being one of 22, 000 women running in the world’s biggest women-only marathon was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Taking to the streets with women of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and fitness levels was a proud and empowering feeling. The sense of support and emotion contained within the running space as well as that of the supporters lining the track was beautiful a beautiful feeling.

Returning to South Africa, I now advocate for the Nagoya Women’s Marathon. The organisation, hospitality and energy of this race reflects the eloquence of Japanese culture. The marathon celebrates strong, dedicated women coming together to challenge themselves, stereotypes and the historical culture of marathon running.

The Girls’ Globe Reading List

The Girl’s Globe Reading List is an introduction to some of the most important and pressing issues affecting society today. These are the voices, perspectives, ideas and opinions of women and girls from all over the world. Read, learn and feel inspired to take action!

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)

1. Campaigning for Care & Compassion in Ireland

“In the final weeks leading up to the referendum, the most important conversations were happening at the school gates or at kitchen tables over cups of tea.”

by Áine Kavanagh for International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF)

2. The Victory of Imelda Cortez in El Salvador

“This is an amazing victory in a country widely considered to have the most extreme abortion ban in the world. But Imelda’s story is a reminder of the misogynistic justice systems we live in.”

by Lorena Monroy

3. Teenage Girls in Argentina Deserve Better

“Adolescent maternity rates are higher in communities living in poverty, where girls are also less likely to go to school or have access to healthcare and contraceptives.”

by Maria Rendo

4. Women in Rural Zimbabwe are Being Left Behind

“The fact that young women and adolescents in rural and remote communities are still struggling to access modern family planning methods – or even comprehensive sex education – is overlooked.”

by Yunah Bvumbwe

5. Breaking the Silence on Vulval Pain

“For years I thought painful was how sex was supposed to feel. Other women must experience this pain and just get on with it, right?”

by Sophie Bryson

Mental Health

1. These Tools are Helping me Handle Depression

“None of this is easy, I know. I am still trying and learning myself, but here are a few tools and tips I would like to share.”

by Chloé Sénéchal

2. My Not-So-Easy Mental Health Recovery Journey

“I don’t regret getting help for my mental health, but I do wish someone had told me how long and difficult the journey of treatment and recovery could be.”

by Gabrielle Rocha Rios

3. Tips for Supporting Someone Experiencing Depression

“Try not to make assumptions about your friends, some people are really positive and enthusiastic, but it doesn’t mean they are at peace within themselves. Some of us have become masters at hiding pain.”

by Chloé Sénéchal

4. Are You at Risk of Burnout Syndrome?

“Burnout syndrome is a form of chronic stress. It is an alarm clock to a more serious problem and needs to be addressed as early as possible.”

by Tariro Mantsebo

5. Postpartum Depression: the Danger of ‘Bad Mother’ Syndrome

“As I conversed with more mothers who had suffered from postpartum mood disorders, each one of their experiences cut deeper than the last. Every woman mentioned having to bottle up her emotions and recalled blaming her own self.”

by Chaarushi Ahuja

Menstruation

1. Nepalese Women are Dying in the Name of Tradition

“After hearing each news report on the death of a woman or girl in a menstrual shed, I ask myself: how many more women must die before social mindsets and attitudes change?”

by Pragya Lamsal

2. Why Sanitary Products Should be Free for Girls

“I believe that it’s imperative to provide free sanitary wear for disadvantaged girls in order to help secure a brighter future for all.”

by Yunah Bvumbwe

3. Menstrual Pain is a Public Health Matter

“I believe many other doctors, both male and female, have harboured similar thoughts. As a result, women to wait longer for medical attention and sometimes receive inadequate pain management.”

by Tariro Mantsebo

4. Menstrual Cups: Breaking the Bloody Taboo

“The menstrual cup has gained a lot of traction over the past year. By some it is seen as an eco-friendly hipster trend, but for women across the world it provides a cost-effective, safe way to manage periods.”

by Terri Harris

5. Taking Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder Seriously

“But PMS can turn into a debilitating and even life-threatening disorder that is unfortunately not nearly as well-known as it should be – premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

by Gabrielle Rocha Rios

The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and are not medical advice. If you are interested in raising your voice with Girls’ Globe, you can apply to join us!

The Plight of Adolescent Mothers in Tanzania

The month of March boasts International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month – two observances which highlight great achievements of women, both and past and present, that have radically changed mankind. But although women and girls have made great strides worldwide in many areas and disciplines, there are many challenges and hurdles that they continue to face.

In June 2017, President John Magufuli of Tanzania called for the ban of adolescent mothers returning to school after giving birth. His reasoning? Adolescent mothers would encourage the other school girls to have sex.

And it gets worse.

In December 2017, authorities called for the arrest of pregnant girls in hopes of getting them to testify against the men who got them pregnant. Subsequently, five girls were arrested along with their parents. Although the girls and their families were released, these acts have outraged non-governmental organizations around the world. They have also brought to light the challenges that many girls in Tanzania face, such as limited access to education, lack of sexual and reproductive health education, child marriage, pregnancy checks, and predatory male teachers.

Each year in Tanzania, 8,000 girls drop out of school due to pregnancy. Tanzania has no official re-entry policy that allows adolescent mothers to attend school and complete their education and continues the practice of immediate expulsion of girls who become pregnant.

International Women’s Day has passed and Women’s History Month will soon come to a close, but advocacy efforts for adolescent mothers must continue. We cannot sit by idly as the rights of adolescent mothers are violated. Instead, we must continue to raise awareness and support them in their efforts to lead successful lives.

There are several campaigns and petitions geared towards supporting adolescent mothers in Tanzania but more needs to be done. Adolescent girls need a government that understands the importance of completing education and recognises the need for safety in and out of classrooms. They need environments that are free of shame and stigma.

As Michelle Obama so eloquently stated: “There are still many causes worth sacrificing for. There is still so much history yet to be made.”

Equal access to education for adolescent mothers and formal re-entry policies that support them in completing their education are causes not only worth sacrificing for, but also worth fighting for.

A Healthy Twist on International Women’s Day

It has been quite a year for women in the world. We have raised the #MeToo movement from a hashtag to a force. We have marched, yet again, for rights that are often agreed upon but still seldom given. We have won seats in government, testified in court, spoken out in interviews. We’ve started organizations, and built families. We have persisted.

SOGH members attend the Women’s March in Stockholm. Credit: Giorgia Dalla Libera Marchiori, Sweden

Despite all of these ‘women’s wins’, there are still glaring disparities in literally all categories from economic gaps, to social treatment, to health. There are global programs, data sets, indexes, and statistics to prove and draw awareness to those discrepancies. Recently, the UN released a report declaring that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) gender indicator still leaves “significant gaps to women’s empowerment”, specifically in health areas.

If the big international and governmental organizations struggle to deliver promises for equality, what can we as individuals do?

It can be difficult to know where to begin or which steps to take to create a solution for inequality. The answer is simple: just start somewhere. There is so much each of us can do! At the Swedish Organization for Global Health (SOGH), we start with health. We join together as individuals with different backgrounds and expertise, and commit to standing together, working in solidarity, and fighting for health equality.

If you’re somewhere other than Sweden (Hej, from Stockholm!), we’ve crafted three ways for you to celebrate International Women’s (Health) Day:

First, understand.

Women face different threats than men do, and still must fight for basic rights and protection to their own bodies. The top threats to women’s health globally include: reproductive health problems, maternal health issues, HIV, sexually transmitted infections, violence (intimate partner, sexual, or gender-based), non-communicable diseases (addictions, accidents, obesity), being young, and ageing. Globally, the health of girls and women often become secondary priorities. Women in the United States make 80% of all health care decisions for their families, and tend to prioritize their own health last. Some women are purposefully kept from care, while others may not be able to obtain the procedures they need. Understanding the threats and the issues women face is the foundation to a healthy future.

Second, practice.

When was the last time you went for a check-up? A breast exam? Have you talked to the girls in your life about self-care, safe-sex, health relationships? What have you been doing to ensure that you and your circle are practicing a healthy lifestyle? From food, to decisions, to difficult conversations, we cannot help to create health in others if we don’t first seek it ourselves. Practice what you preach, click around the Girls’ Globe health posts, make an appointment, quit a habit, have a difficult conversation, and check-in with your loved ones to elevate health in and around you.

Third, unite.

On International Women’s Day, we reflect on the status of health for women. Our work must address the uniqueness of women’s health based on circumstance and environment. Some threats to women are universal no matter the context or place. However, issues like gender equality, access to care, and quality services vary intensely based on income or geography. This added layer means that as activists, we not only have to understand or practice, we have to act. Our action can be in towns nearby, in organizations reaching far away, or in classrooms where future leaders are preparing themselves. Wherever we are and whatever we do, we must unite together for all women.

For more information on International Women’s Day, follow hashtags #IWD2018 or #TimeIsNow, and read about the 2018 UN theme: Rural and Urban Activists, Changing Women’s Lives.