On August 10th around 6:30pm, Hanifa Yousoufi made history by being the first woman to summit Mt. Noshaq in Afghanistan. Mt. Noshaq is Afghanistan’s tallest peak, and is 4,000 feet higher than the tallest peak in North America.

In the widely shared picture of Yousoufi at the top of Mt. Noshaq, she is gripping the Afghan flag and fighting against the wind. The weather conditions prohibited the two other women that set out with Yousoufi from finishing the expedition alongside her. The only other mountaineers to conquer Noshaq have all been men.

Outside of the dangers presented by scaling a mountain, the years of political unrest made this feat even more dangerous. Mt. Noshaq had been closed to hikers for 30 years prior to it’s reopening in 2009 because of the threat that local warfare presented in that region. In Yousoufi’s case, her expedition was nearly derailed at the last minute due to Taliban fighting in a neighboring area the day before she was to travel to the base of Mt. Noshaq. Instead of turning back, her group decided to fly into a different airstrip, 13 hours away from their original destination.

Hanifa Yousoufi was married at 15 and later divorced her abusive husband. As a divorced woman in Afghanistan, Yousoufi felt that her prospects were over by the time she was 17. However, a few years after escaping the marriage, Yousoufi found the organization Ascend Athletics, a nonprofit that trains women for 2 years in leadership and physical training. The Mt. Noshaq expedition was fully funded by the nonprofit and totaled $30,000, which was half funded by an individual donor.

At the start of each year, 20 women between the ages of 15 and 23 start the Ascend Athletics program. Aside from participating in physical training for expeditions like the one Yousoufi completed, the women also train in conflict resolution, outreach, public speaking, and leadership. Many of the women have chosen to remain anonymous and work in secret because of the negative attention that outspoken women face in Afghanistan, from the public and the Taliban. For example, in 2016 locals threw rocks at the women while they training at a location site.

However, Ascend Athletics is not alone in pushing boundaries in Afghanistan and empowering women to break glass ceilings. This year, a historic 417 women are running for the Afghan parliament.

 

Media Resources: The Virginian-Pilot 8/20/18; Gripped 8/22/18; Outside 8/23/18; The Christian Science Monitor 8/29/18; Feminist Newswire 6/27/18, 10/10/18

 

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