By Maria Kari
The writer is a law student based in Canada and tweets at @mariakari1414
In 1856, when Mount Everest was definitively identified as the world’s highest mountain, what began was a series of early Everest expeditions. And while the first female ascent of the mountain was in 1975 by Japanese mountain-climber Junko Tabei and the first Pakistani to scale the Everest was Nazir Sabir in 2000, 21-year-old Samina Baig set a new record for the country as she ascended the over 8,800-metre peak on May 19, 2013 and became the first Pakistani woman to reach the roof of the world.
Much is remarkable about Samina Baig’s story. She is the first person to climb Chaskin Sar, a 6,000-metre high peak, which has now been named after her. She managed to secure Rs10 million from funders in New Zealand for this climb after being turned down by the Pakistani government. Upon reaching the top, she chose to deploy the Pakistani flag alongside the Indian flag, which had been positioned there by sisters and fellow climbers from India, in a symbolic gesture that puts all our politicians and leaders to shame.
But most impressively, Samina chose to dedicate her expedition to a higher cause — for the confidence and empowerment of Pakistani women, in particular, those who come from the most remote regions of the country, like Samina herself. However, it would not be a stretch to say that Samina was not the only one to create history at 7.40am on May 19. Her brother Mirza Ali, who beamed with pride next to his sister, while she gave press interviews, is an equally remarkable component of this tale.
It is stories of men like Mirza Ali — a brother who turned back at 8,600 metres, just 248 metres shy of conquering the summit, to let his sister take the lead and declare to the world that women are just as capable as men — that need to be told. Stories of men who gun down young girls because they are frightened and threatened by her relentless pursuit of education should be shunned and condemned to serve as a lesson to those men who choose to be inspired by them!
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, at the inception of Pakistan, said, “No nation can ever be worthy of its existence that cannot take its women along with the men. No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men.”
Yet, a recent United Nations study shows that Pakistan, compared with the rest of South Asia, continues to have the least amount of women, a meagre 22 per cent, participating in its labour force. Surely, we don’t need reminding that there is prosperity for a nation through empowerment of its people, a term inclusive of the female gender.
Samina Baig and Mirza Ali have come to set a new precedent and one which we should seek to adopt and emulate within our own relationships and family dynamics. The sibling duo hails from Shimshal Village in the Hunza Valley, one of the most remote regions in Pakistan and yet, the siblings maintain that their village has a 100 per cent literacy rate for females. Hearing Samina speak in her soft, yet confident manner, in articulate Urdu and English, under the proud gaze of her older brother, I do not doubt this claim.
This expedition serves to provide us with a message and I would like to quote Mirza Ali who said, “I want to let Pakistan know that if I can empower my sister to summit the highest peak of the world, Pakistani men should also let their women pursue any goal they want to.”