ISLAMABAD: The first Pakistani woman to climb Mount Everest says she wants her achievement to stand as an inspiration to all the women of her troubled country that they can achieve their dreams.
Samina Baig last month became the first woman from Pakistan to reach the 8,848 metre (29,029 foot) summit of the world's tallest mountain, after a gruelling expedition in rough weather.
As she unfurled the green and white Pakistani flag on the peak, tears of joy and pride rolled down her cheeks, she told AFP in an interview at her Islamabad home.
The 22-year-old said that as she stood with the world at her feet, her mind turned to the millions of women back home denied opportunities because of their gender in Pakistan's conservative, patriarchal society.
“I was thinking about the women of Pakistan, those who are not allowed to get education, those who are not allowed to do whatever they want to do in their life,” she said. “I hope that the families will understand that the contribution of women is important and can be more powerful for building a greater country.”
Human rights groups say Pakistani women suffer severe discrimination, domestic violence and so-called “honour” killings – when a victim is murdered for allegedly bringing dishonour upon her family.
Baig, from the small town of Shimshal in the Hunza valley in Pakistan's mountainous north said she hoped to empower the women of Pakistan through her achievements. “Mountain climbing is my passion and to empower women through my expeditions is the reason. I am doing the mountain climbing to empower women,”she said. “The reason behind this expedition was to convey a message that if Samina can climb a mountain other girls can do anything they want in their life.”
The Everest climb was not Baig's first significant achievement – after taking up climbing just three years ago she became the first person to reach the summit of the 6,400-metre Chashkin Sar peak in northern Pakistan in 2010.
“Chashkin Sar was virgin and we climbed it for the first time and afterwards the people renamed it as Samina Baig,” she said.
Training for the Everest expedition, which she accomplished with her brother Mirza Ali with financial help from New Zealand, began 12 months ago in the frozen wastes of her home district.
“It took us one year. Me and my brother were planning for the last one year. We went for training in winter on glaciers. We went to Shimshal Pass in the winter to prepare, stamina building and technical training,” she said.
Northern Pakistan is home to some of the world's most impressive mountains and glaciers and challenging climbs, and Baig urged the government to relax the rigid visa regime which she said was holding it back as a destination for mountaineers.
“The problem is the visa issue. People want to come to Pakistan but are not given visas. We wish for visas to be given to those people who want to come to Pakistan,” she said.
With Everest in the bag, Baig's next target is to summit the highest peaks in each of the world's seven continents – all while studying for a degree in tourism management.