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Masked runners, paragliders and mystery footprints make the 2016 Skopje Marathon a race for gender equality

This year’s Skopje Marathon saw over 8,000 runners from 46 different countries gather in the capital to test their stamina—some of them bracing themselves to endure the full 42 kilometres, some  warming up for the half-marathon, and others preparing to dash the 5 km race. UNDP, UNFPA and UN Women together with the Skopje Marathon used the oportunity to promote Sustainable Development Goal 5. 

As the crowds of runners waited for the signal to set off, a group of ten masked runners suddenly appeared on the starting line, covered from head to toe in red body suits and with their arms all linked together.

“They came out of nowhere and no-one had a clue who they were,” said one onlooker. “Lots of people were taking photos of them and some people were asking them questions, but they wouldn’t say who they were or why they were there. “

Running together in a row and holding hands all the way (not an easy feat in body suits on a hot day in May!), the masked group raised cheers and not a little bewilderment from the crowds of onlookers watching the race. Adding to the mystery, the group seemed to be following strange footprints marked on the roads at intervals along the route.

The meaning of the stunt only became clear once the group had completed the first kilometre of the race, when a group of young people surrounded them with signs saying: ‘It’s time to end all forms of discrimination against women and girls everywhere!’

With each kilometre they ran, the group were met by new crowds with different messages on their signs—each of them taken from the UN’s fifth Sustainable Development Goal for gender equality, including the demand to “Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life!”

At the very end of the race in the centre of the capital the group were met by some of the country’s leading paragliders landing in middle of the square waving a huge SDG 5 gender equality sign. Only then did the mystery runners remove their masks.


One of the famous faces behind the masks was Edina Musa, one of the country’s best basketball players. Taking up a microphone, Edina delivered the following message:  “This race is over but the race for gender equality still goes on,” she said. “As a sportswoman I fight every day for gender equality. Today we had an excellent opportunity to raise awareness about this important goal. The costumes we are wearing today symbolically send the message that everyone has equal chances to win the marathon, regardless of whether they are a woman or a man. Gender equality is a precondition for peaceful, prosperous and sustainable societies.”

The next celebrity to take off his mask was popular TV presenter Marko Novevski, who addressed the crowd with the words: “What does gender equality mean? It means that both women and men should have equal access to education, healthcare and decent work. This is at the very heart of SDG 5, one of the 17 UN Global Goals that the world has set out to achieve by the year 2030. All of us who ran today fully support this important global goal which affects us all.“

In this remarkable way the masked runners and paragliders succeeded in capturing the crowd’s attention and spreading the message of the United Nations and the European Union that gender equality is a top priority and precondition for a sustainable future.

“The quest for equal rights for women and men is a marathon of historic proportions,” said UN Resident Coordinator Louisa Vinton. “Long-distance running requires determination and perseverance and the same can be said for gender equality. We’ve made good progress towards this goal so far but there is still a great distance to cover. We count on your support in getting to the finish line.”