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Muslim Women Break Barriers to Reach Olympics

Palestinian runner Sanaa Abu Bkeet.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News
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Palestinian runner Sanaa Abu Bkeet.
Afghan runner Robina Muqimyar.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News /
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Afghan runner Robina Muqimyar.

Forty percent of the athletes competing in Athens this year are women -- the largest proportion in Olympic history. As NPR's Sylvia Poggioli notes, about 50 of those athletes are Muslim women who had to overcome political, cultural and religious obstacles in order to attend.

Robina Muqimyar, 17, is one of two women on the first Afghan team to be admitted to the Olympics since the fall of the Taliban. She began running less than a year ago in Ghazi stadium -- once used by the Taliban for public torture and executions. For Muqimyar, practicing on Ghazi's concrete track is a significant step toward restoring the stadium to its true purpose.

When Palestinian Sanaa Abu Bkeet began running four years ago, she was taunted by many boys and elders in her Gaza Strip hometown. Today, the 19-year-old is the only woman on the Palestinian Olympic team. She still lacks practice sports facilities, but with no track to run on, she trains every day at the beach -- often running barefoot.

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Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.