Gender Equality on Mt. Everest
Since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay’s infamous ascent of Mt. Everest sixty years ago, climbing Mt. Everest has increasingly become a hot topic of controversy and debate. As the mountain becomes more and more crowded, more questions have emerged about the safety and motives behind climbing the world’s highest mountain, the affect this is having on the local communities, and in some cases, whether we can view this as a micro-culture of the much larger issues in our world today.
Everest, however, continues to be a great source of inspiration for many, and occasionally there emerges a story of courage and human character so touching it cuts through all the tension and media hype, and reminds us of what is truly important.
A few days ago, on May 19, 2013, Pakistani brother/sister duo and mountain guides, Mirza Ali and Samina Baig, successfully led an expedition to the top of Mt. Everest. Amidst all the political tensions in Pakistan and issues over women’s rights, Mirza and Samina named their expedition the “First Pakistani Mt. Everest Gender Equality Expedition." Their hopes have been to send a message and help empower women in Pakistan, as Samina would be the first Pakistani woman to climb an 8,000 meter peak (let alone the first Pakistani woman to climb the highest mountain in the world). They've also hoped to promote peace and friendship between India and Pakistan, climbing with two Indian twin sisters. We'll know in a few days if they were successful in hoisting both Pakistani and Indian flags side by side on the summit.
News and media coverage has flooded out on the team’s successful ascent. Lead guide Mirza Ali, having just returned from Everest to communication range, corrected media through a post on Facebook today May 25th. Mirza announced while reaching the summit was in his ability, he had in fact decided to stop just short of continuing on to the summit (and what would have been his first ascent of Mt. Everest), a personal decision to let his sister Samina lead the team by herself to the top of the world. Through this choice he hopes to send the message to the men of his home country to “allow and trust the females to do what they can do.” Mirza then explains how for him it is not about individual triumph – but more importantly about spreading his mission of empowering women through adventure and gender equality.
While the “triumph” of climbing Mt. Everest will continue to be a hot topic likely for years to come, Mirza and Samina have given us an important reminder that there are larger issues that we face in our world - and that through each of our own choices we can empower others to have courage to do the right thing no matter what others may think, and to leave the world a better place than we found it.
Thank you Mirza and Samina! Climb on!