Nawal El Moutawakel – Hurdles only strengthen her track

Cross-posted from UN Women

Bursting through the barriers of the male-dominated profession of competitive sport, Nawal El Moutawakel is the first Arab, African, and Muslim woman to win an Olympic gold medal, which she did for the 400-metre hurdles in 1984. She followed up her win serving as the first Minister of Sports in Morocco.

Nawal EN

She leads other women to chase their dreams by demonstrating what is possible. Bursting through the barriers of the male-dominated profession of competitive sport, Nawal El Moutawakel is the first Arab, African, and Muslim woman to win an Olympic gold medal, which she did for the 400-metre hurdles in 1984. With strong support of her parents and a handful of others who wanted to witness the first woman of her background to succeed, she withstood criticism on many fronts, from her dress, to her prominent role in sports, and her rejection of certain codes of behaviour common in her region. 

She continued to wade through a sea of disapproval as she organized the first Moroccan women’s five-kilometre race in Casablanca in 1993, using sports to energize and inspire women to follow in her footsteps. But the idea took root and the event has been held every year since its initiation and attracts more than 20,000 participants annually.

She followed up her win serving as the first Minister of Sports in Morocco. Today she holds several prestigious posts as a member of the Executive Board and Vice-President of the International Olympic Committee and the President of the Coordination Commission of the Olympic Games in Rio 2016.

Her passion for sports is matched by her fervor for women’s rights, and she not only promotes girl’s literacy and education, but also encourages Moroccan women to get involved in leadership and decision-making through governmental work, and to support human rights for women and girls with HIV and AIDS. In recognition of her life-long advocacy work, she served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2009 and the UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Millennium Development Goals in 2011.

“My dream and my call is to see the world of sport with boys and girls achieving performances through the same equal opportunities.”

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