Afghan Women Use Climbing to Break Down Barriers

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If you’re in need of an inspiring story today, take a look at this article that comes our way via NPR. It tells the tale of some very courageous women in Afghanistan who have taken up climbing in a culture where women have few rights and their freedoms are greatly restricted.

The women who are taking this bold step are working in conjunction with a nonprofit called Ascend. The organization is looking to instill leadership and confidence in a new generation of Afghani women by showing them that they are capable of extraordinary things if given the opportunity. The hope is that these women can then serve as role models to others in their country, encouraging them to step forward as well. Climbing is providing them that strength and self-assuredness, as they test their own physical and mental limits on the rock.

The women face a number of challenges in their pursuit, not the least of which are cultural and religious barriers. Afghanistan is a conservative Muslim country after all, and what is typically permitted of women is very different than what we are use to here in the West. For many Afghanis, women should stay home, tend to the chores and children, and seldom speak their mind. Ascend’s program runs counter to all of those deeply ingrained beliefs and challenges a way of life that has remained largely the same for hundreds of years.

That isn’t the only challenge however. While Afghanistan is a rugged, mountainous country, climbing and mountaineering are only just now starting to become more popular there. This isn’t too surprising considering the challenges that the country has faced over the past 50+ years. Only a handful of men there have taken up the pursuit of climbing mountains, which makes it all the more extraordinary that these women are doing it as well.

Ultimately, the goal is for an all-female team to travel to remote Mt. Noshaq – Afghanistan’s tallest peak at 7491 meters (24,580 ft) – and attempt to summit it. To date, just two men have ever climbed the mountain, and if a women’s team could repeat that feat, it would send a powerful message to others throughout the country, and the entire Muslim world. The ladies hope to achieve that goal sometime later this year, although they face a number of logistical obstacles to making that happen.

This is a great story and one that I highly recommend reading. It is inspiring to see climbing and mountaineering being put to good use in this way, and I hope these women get the chance to launch their expedition. What a great story that would make too.

Kraig Becker