Red Deer woman highlights struggle for females in Afghanistan

By Jordan Bay
February 8, 2019 - 4:00pm Updated: February 14, 2019 - 8:23pm

It’s hard to think women in different parts of the world may not enjoy all the freedoms people do here, but in some places it’s a sad fact, and one local campaign is looking to change that.

The Secret Marathon is documentary film about the first women to run a marathon in Afghanistan.

Red Deer native Kate McKenzie, co-director of the film, says the final product will be out soon.

“The documentary itself is scheduled to be completed this spring and we are hoping to be able to submit it to all the major film festivals, so that we can hopefully be premiering it in fall of 2019.”

McKenzie was part of the team that went to Afghanistan to film the documentary. She explains why they did it and why the project means to much to her.

“When I heard about the first woman to run a marathon in Afghanistan, her name is Zainab, and Zainab talked about what it was like for her to train outside,” McKenzie explained. “She said that when she would go outside for a training run that boys were throwing rocks at her, that men were insulting her and she was even receiving threats from terrorists.

As a result, McKenzie says Zainab had to train inside her enclosed courtyard in a space not much bigger than the average Canadian’s backyard.

“I couldn’t imagine trying to do 42.2 kilometers worth of loops in my backyard and not being safe to go for a run or a walk outside,” McKenzie said.

“I can lace up my shoes and go for a run or a walk anytime I want to, and I have the freedom to do that. The idea that there would be a woman halfway around the world who couldn’t do that just really struck me.”

McKenzie says she wanted to do everything she could to support Zainab, so she teamed up with legendary marathoner and motivational speaker Martin Parnell.

She couldn’t believe what it was like in Afghanistan. 

“We were just amazed time and time again with the hospitality and the generosity that met us in every place that we went to. Also, it was incredible to meet these women and the men that are making this event happen because it’s the first co-gender athletic event in Afghanistan.”

McKenzie says a lot of what she saw was the polar opposite of what she was expecting.

“We were inspired because a lot of times, the stories you hear on the news about Afghanistan are often about negative things like war and terrorism. When we heard about a community that wanted to change that and wanted to use as a way to be able to create a safe place we though that’s incredible, that’s a story that needs to be told.”

After returning home, McKenzie helped organize a 3K ‘Secret Marathon’ right here in Red Deer to raise awareness for women in Afghanistan who still aren’t allowed to run or train outside. The event is taking place on March 6 during International Women’s Week.

As for the documentary itself, McKenzie has big plans for it.

“We’d love to be able to take the film into schools all across Canada and all around the world so the next generation can learn about this message of gender equality and can also learn about the message of being able to work towards their own goals… and how to overcome some of their own struggles just liked we witnessed in the marathon of Afghanistan.”

More details on the documentary and the upcoming event in Red Deer are available at The Secret Marathon Facebook page.





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