The displaced Iraqi girls running for their freedom.
Free to Run is an NGO that supports women and girls in regions of conflict through sport. Having previously worked in Afghanistan, they also work with girls living in IDP camps around Iraqi Kurdistan, with the aim of empowering them through a variety of sports and life skills training, creating safe spaces for them to develop confidence, make friends, and support them to reclaim public space in a country where women’s rights are lacking.
The program started in 2018 with 18 participants and has grown to around 30 girls this year. Taylor Smith, executive director at Free to Run, explains that due to their age, backgrounds, and socioeconomic status as IDPs, the girls “struggle more with access to public life, ability to play sports, and autonomy over their own bodies”. She adds: “Many of our participants have shared that they were allowed to join in sports only until they reached puberty, at which time communities and families said it was inappropriate for them to continue.”
Commissioned by The Observer magazine. Published in February 2022. Text by Jessie Williams.