No Women, No Race

The Gaza marathon, scheduled to be held on April 10, was cancelled by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) after Hamas decided to ban all women from the annual race.  The UNRWA was founded in 1949, and “provides assistance, protection and advocacy for some 5 million registered Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory, pending a solution to their plight.” (  The UNRWA is run almost solely by donations by UN members and is the principal UN agency in Gaza.  The race is also sponsored by the UNRWA.

After Hamas Islamist officials banned women from the race, the UNRWA withdrew its support.  Even though Palestinian schoolgirls had participated in the last two marathons, Hamas contended it was against the traditions of the Palestinian people.  This year’s race was supposed to host a record number of women; 260 Palestinian women as well as 119 foreign women.  Sadly, as Adnan Abu Hasna, the UNRWA’s media advisor stated, “The marathon was an annual event to show solidarity with the Palestinian people and to raise funds for summer camps organized by UNRWA which serve at least 250,000 schoolchildren.”(

Relations between the UNRWA and Hamas have been strained at times, in that Hamas has accused the UNRWA of not including Gaza government representatives in meetings with international visitors.  Additionally, Hamas representatives have in the past disagreed with the curriculum in UNRWA-run schools.  The UNRWA was faced with an extremely tough decision after the ruling by Hamas; do they continue to sponsor the race, while implicitly endorsing anti-women sentiment and rules, or do they pull the plug on the race to the detriment of more than 250,000 male and female schoolchildren of the small nation.  Do you think they made the right choice? Were there any other options?




Photo: NBCNews


  1. In my opinion, the situation presented here is certainly a difficult one for the UNRWA. As Mr. Goldstein mentioned, whichever decision they made, one group would have to suffer in some way. If they supported the race, then the 260 women who were on track to participate would not be allowed to and the anti-women sentiment would be implicitly supported by the UNRWA. Further, this decision would go against one of the main reasons for the race, which is “to show solidarity with the Palestinian people.” However, the decision to not allow the race would cause these 250,000 children to not benefit from summer camps because the funds needed could not be raised.

    Personally, I’m not entirely sure the UNRWA made the correct decision here. Although I do not condone in any way this anti-women position taken by Palestine, I think looking at this from a purely numbers perspective, I would have chosen to allow the race to go on because 250,000 children benefit, as opposed to the 260 women that would not be allowed to participate. However, it can also be argued that choosing this stance affects the view of the UNRWA from a global perspective, and those who are not familiar with the possible reasoning behind a decision to support the race, may think they are condoning this anti-women view. With that being said, I do think as a possible option they could have run two races, one for men and one for women, so that women could still participate and the camps could still be funded. However, who is to say that Palestine would not have just blocked the separate race as well. Either way, this was a difficult decision that would have hurt one of these two groups regardless of what the UNRWA chose.

  2. While I like Peter’s last suggestion regarding how this ordeal could have been handled – two races could have been run, one for each sex – I also agree that Hamas would not have allowed those two races to take place. In saying that, I disagree with Peter’s position that race should have been run anyway to benefit the summer camps for school children. I do, however, acknowledge that I may be biased in my assertion that the UNRWA made the right decision.

    I hope that the UNRWA’s act sent a strong message to Hamas, and has not been taken lightly. That said, Hamas needs to practice what it preaches to the UNRWA. Hamas has been angry with it for not including Gaza government representatives in meetings with international visitors, and if Hamas wants to be taken seriously and included in those meetings, perhaps they should enter 2013 and allow women to run races if the women choose to do so.

  3. I agree with Alison and support the UNRWA’s decision to not run the race altogether. In today’s modern society, it is imperative to support women’s rights, even if it comes at the detriment of a children’s summer camp. Hopefully, by sending the message that anti-women sentiments will not be tolerated, and by forcing another group of people to suffer because of it, will lead all people to find that discriminatory behavior is not beneficial to anyone.

    I believe that it is important to realize WHY Hamas is banning women from running in the race. Is it because they do not believe that women and men should compete together, or it is because they do not believe that women should race period? If it is the former, implementing two separate races will accomplish both objectives of fundraising for summer camps and including women. If it is the latter however, a bigger message needs to be sent that the behavior is not tolerated and the race should remain cancelled.

  4. It is hard to assess whether the UNRWA made the right decision. While I wholeheartedly support equality between men and women, it is unfortunate that the 250,000 school children will miss out on the money that this important fundraiser raises for summer camps.

    Furthermore, the cancellation of this race is unfortunate as the annual event was to show solidarity among the Palestinian people.

    The UNRWA might have used its position to cancel the race to pressure Hamas into allowing women to run and therefore support women’s equality, but unfortunately, it seems that it was unable to do so.

    It is unfortunate that tensions have been raised even more between UNRWA and Hamas, as UNRWA is the primary UN agency in Gaza.

    Hopefully in the future the UNRWA will continue to be a positive influence in the region and perhaps work with Hamas to relax tensions and improve the lives of all Gazans regardless of gender.

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