“No woman needs the support of a man – not even to climb the highest peak of the world,” says Mirza Ali, brother of mountaineer Samina Baig. “I want to let Pakistan know that if I can empower my sister to summit the highest peak of the world, they should also let their women pursue any goal they want to.”
Sharing his thoughts in an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune, during a stopover at the Jinnah International Airport, Mirza elaborated on how he was determined to let his sister climb the mountain without any support.
On May 19, 2013, Samina Baig, 22, became the first Pakistani woman to have ever scaled Mount Everest. Their expedition – ‘First Pakistani Gender Equality Mt Everest (8,848m) Expedition’ – had the primary goal of fostering gender equality and empowering women.
It’s for this very reason that Mirza turned back at 8,600 metres, just 248 metres shy of conquering the summit. This was his way of declaring to the world that women are just as capable as men.
Greeted at the airport by a swarm of reporters, an elated Samina, dressed in a traditional shalwar kameez, said that her achievements made her ‘very happy’. She added that the entire crew was very supportive and she is proud to have been part of a team that conveyed the message of gender equality.
All the while, Ali stands behind his sister, a gentle smile playing on his face, completely confident with the spotlight being on her instead of on him.
The tale of the trek
The siblings hail from a village called Shimshal in Upper Hunza, which borders China and has a literacy rate of 100%. Located deep in the Karakoram Range, Ali has been climbing mountains for 12 years, and Samina for four.
Ghulam Hussain, a paternal cousin of the siblings and the only family member present to greet them – with a rose in each hand – said Samina comes from a liberal family that not only encourages girls to study, but pushes them to achieve their dreams. He said many girls in Hunza climb mountains and are facilitated by the Shimshal Mountaineering School.
‘On our own’
Ali, who was Samina’s trainer and guide, said his sister received two months of rigorous stamina training before the expedition. The entire mission cost Rs10million, but the duo received no help from the Pakistani government.
Aside from medication, which was provided by Dr Mohammed Amjad of Reeds Pharma, the expenditure was only possible with aid from New Zealand.
Although the siblings expressed remorse over the fact that their own government did not provide them with any assistance to accomplish their mission, they humbly requested the government to now step up and support them. Ali runs The Youth Outreach Program, through which he aims to empower women to climb mountains.
“Support us,” implored Ali candidly. “Help us empower our women.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2013.