Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 July 2019

Women climb to Everest base camp to show unity in face of anti-hijab rhetoric

Group of 14, of 11 different nationalities, seek to promote equality among women of all religions and backgrounds

Surviving Hijab group at Everest Base Camp- Photo credit: Manal Rustom 
Surviving Hijab group at Everest Base Camp- Photo credit: Manal Rustom 

More than a dozen women from all walks of life braved freezing temperatures and a gruelling schedule to show the world that all women, regardless of ethnicity or religion, are the same.

A group of 14 women, from 11 different nationalities, have each now returned to their respective countries after ascending to Everest’s South base camp in Nepal on March 30.

The eight-day hike to the 5,380-metre altitude camp was organised by the Surviving Hijab Facebook group, which seeks to tackle myths about hijab.

Team members living in the UAE trained in Ras Al Khaimah under coach Manal Rostom, who founded the Facebook group in 2014 as a platform for women to discuss issues related to hijab and led the women on the hike in Nepal.

“What I wanted to achieve was to raise awareness about tolerance, inclusivity and equality for women,” said Ms Rostom, who lives in Dubai.

Surviving Hijab during the trip. Photo credit: Manal Rustom
Surviving Hijab during the trip. Photo credit: Manal Rustom

“We can all get tired the same, we sweat the same, we struggle the same. It doesn’t matter whether you cover [your hair] or not. We were 14 girls from 11 countries, not all of us Arabs, not all wearing the hijab, and that is what I wanted to deliver.”

Ms Rostom is known for her activism related to sports and hijab. In 2015, the Egyptian appeared in a Nike advert wearing a hijab. Last year, she became the first Arab to be featured on the global Nike+ Run App.

The Facebook group, that has almost 640,000 members, has also been acclaimed and was awarded a Facebook Community Leader Award in September. As part of the award, the social media company sponsored six members to trek to Everest’s base camp.

The team, aged between 17 and 40, met in Katmandu in Nepal, then flew to Lukla, which is about 2,800 metres above sea level, from where they set off for base camp.

The ascent took eight days and the descend took another three.

“We had a 100 per cent success rate,” Ms Rostom said.

Intisar Abdul-Kader at the base camp. 
Intisar Abdul-Kader at the base camp. 

The women came from all over the world were united on the mountain to spread a message of peaceful coexistence.

“The highlight was raising the Surviving Hijab flag together,” said Jacqueline Rachel, 35.

The Hungarian-Australian is not Muslim and does not wear a hijab but was keen to support the cause.

“As someone who has been living in the UAE for almost a decade, I have many friends who wear a hijab, and I don’t consider them different. I wanted to join to spread the message that we are all the same,” she said.

Ms Rachel said that going through a tough physical challenge together brought the women together.

“One day we woke up and it was so cold, minus 20 degrees. We had to dance, all of us together, to warm up.”

Intisar Abdul-Kader, 32, flew to Nepal from the UK to take part in the Facebook group’s first organised challenge.

“This trip showed and confirmed that girls who wear the hijab and all women are a force to be reckoned with. We can do and achieve anything we set our minds and hearts to,” the British-Somalian said

But it was not all fun and games at Everest, said Ms Rostom.

“Of course there were struggles,” she said. “There were tears and there was blood. It was very challenging for everybody and it was really cold. It was minus 14. But I just wanted to send out the message of ‘stop judging women around the world’.”

Updated: April 14, 2019 03:01 PM