All-female team summits Kilimanjaro on International Women’s Day

Posted on 4 April 2013

This year, Nepal celebrates the diamond jubilee of the summit of Mount Everest by the successful mountaineering duo, Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hilary in 1953.

60 years later, mountaineering is still considered a male-dominated activity, especially when it comes to severe mountain conditions like those experienced in Nepal. As late as 1993 the first Nepalese woman – Pasang Lhamu – reached the top of Everest and by 2007 only seven local Nepali women had scaled right to the mighty peak of Mount Everest.

A team of young determined women from various backgrounds set out to change the statistics.

Of the 10 women, eight were new to mountaineering and had little experience. Regardless, rigorous training and endless teamwork successfully led all of them to the dizzying heights of the Mount Everest. After successfully summiting the world’s highest peak in 2008, this team of women didn’t think it was enough to conquer the top of the world. In the words of team leader Shailee Basnet, “By reaching the top we had reached our dream. So now we had to find new ones.”

The Seven Summits Women’s Team decided to climb the tallest peaks on seven continents:

1. Asia: Mount Everest 8850 metres

2. South America: Aconcagua 6962 metres

3. North America: Denali AKA Mount McKinley 6194 metres

4. Africa: Kilimanjaro 5895 metres

5. Europe: Mount Elbrus 5642 metres

6. Antarctica: Mount Vinson 4897 metres

7. Australia: Mount Kosciusko 2228 metres

Seven Summits all-female mountaineering

So far, the women have conquered four of the seven mountains and show no signs of letting up on their mission to dispel the all-male image of mountaineering.

Most recently, the team, joined by three African women, reached the summit of Kilimanjaro on 8 March 2013 –  International Women’s Day. One of the members who joined the team in Tanzania, Anna Indaya, explains her reasons for supporting the cause:

“I had to fight to receive an education when I was growing up and I certainly had to fight to get up this mountain. Now, as a teacher, I see every day the struggle that young Tanzanian girls go through to attend school. I never thought I’d have this amazing opportunity to show girls and young women everywhere what you can achieve through sheer determination.”

The team was backed by the United Nations World Food Programme (UN WFP) and used the successful summit as a platform to initiate various feeding schemes and connect with younger generations in Tanzania, while simultaneously spreading the message of female empowerment. The women were also funded and supported by Childreach International who work with local communities in Tanzania to help improve children’s access to education and healthcare. Tanzania’s Ministry of Tourism and Natural Resources, as well as Tanzania National Parks, were also involved.

Hlubi Mboya Tanzania kilimanjaro Hlubi Mboya and World Food Programme in Tanzania Hlubi Mboya climbs Kilimajaro

One of the notable additions to the climbing team was Hlubi Mboya, the WFP Ambassador Against Hunger in South Africa. Well-known in Southern Africa as Nandipha on Isidingo, Mboya showed the world that a physical mountain meant nothing compared to the emotional and social mountains that seem so insurmountable to women across the globe. On the subject of physically climbing Kilimanjaro, Mboya admitted that no amount of training could have prepared her: “It is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one.”

The challenge, however, is entirely worth it. “Nobody told me how breathtaking it would be,” she exclaimed, “and although the summit was the true goal, it was definitely about the journey. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

By challenging the false philosophy of mountaineering, these women hope to inspire others to take to the challenges they face and successfully reach their own dreams. Basnet put it perfectly, saying, “We want women to be their own heroes.”

If you wish to contribute to the team’s efforts visit their website, Seven Summits Women.

Written by Melanie van Zyl

Photos by Jen Kunz


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