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Top of the world: Women on Everest

May 21, 2013

AFTER they conquered the mighty Mount Everest in 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became household names for generations of people. This year, climbers are celebrating 60 years of conquest of the 8,848m-high mountain’s summit; the proud peak continues to be a site where history is written. On Saturday, 25-year-old Raha Moharrak became the first woman from Saudi Arabia to reach the top; a day later, her achievement was matched by Pakistan which saw the first of its daughters, Samina Baig, do the same. The 21-year-old from Hunza was accompanied by her brother, Mirza Ali and — in another first — twin Indian sisters Tashi and Nugshi Malik. Upon reaching the summit, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay buried some sweets and a small cross in the snow; on Sunday, the Pakistani and Indian mountaineers hoisted flags of their countries side by side.

The strength, courage and endurance that such a climb demands can simply not be envisioned by non-mountaineers. But the brave young women have prevailed over not just a terrain that is amongst the most hostile on the planet, they have also won a victory for another, equally monumental challenge: that of gender equality. Particularly given the countries of their origin — Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia where patriarchy and gender discrimina-tion remain deeply entrenched — they have forged a path through a treacherous landscape. At the Islamabad press conference in March where Samina Baig and Mirza Ali announced their intention to attempt the climb, the former said that “together we are promoting gender equality”. That goal was achieved when the young woman set foot on the first step to the top; in having achieved the summit, she and her companions have presented their gender with an impressive model of standing fast.