History was made last weekend as 27-year-old Raha Moharrak, originally from Jeddah, reached the summit of Mount Everest. Her tremendous achievement lands her straight in the record books as she reached the summit of the 8,848 metre mountain on Saturday morning to become not only the youngest Arab to scale it, but the first Saudi Arabian woman to do so. Speaking prior to her achievement, Moharrak declared: “I really don’t care about being the first, so long as it inspires someone else to be second.”
The graphic design graduate was joined by 29 Nepalese Sherpa guides and 34 other mountaineers in the attempt to conquer Everest, while being the only female in a group of four Arabs to complete the mission. Her companions in the ‘Arabs with Altitude’ group include the first Qatari man, Mohammed Al Thani, a member of the royal family, the first Palestinian man, Raed Zidan, a real-estate entrepreneur and U.S. citizen, and an Iranian man named Masoud Kalafchi, owner of an ice-cream business in Dubai, all of whom also succeeded in reaching the top with her. According to their website, their expedition aimed to raise $1 million for Nepali education projects.
In light of the Kingdom’s forbidding of women to participate in many sporting activities, her accomplishment stands out alongside the nation’s previous historic allowance of the first two females to compete in the 2012 London Olympics.
Not only this, but Saudi schoolgirls have recently been given the right by the education ministry to play sports in some private schools under certain conditions, one of which includes the obligation to wear a ‘decent outfit’.
Nevertheless, Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch, who has praised Moharrak’s efforts, insists that “millions of women and girls in Saudi Arabia are still denied the right to climb in a gym or play any sports… as a matter of government policy.”
Yet while women’s movements are severely restricted in the country, progress is slowly being made. In February, King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the Shura Council, an assembly comprised of government advisers, while also granting women both the vote and the right to stand in elections for 2015. These moves have been criticised by many conservative clerics but were no doubt seen by some as important steps in encouraging female contribution to political and public life.
However, the Gulf state is still the only country that forbids women from participating in sports in government schools. Meanwhile, women are still banned from driving, and are unable to travel without a male guardian’s permission; they are also forbidden from holding any high positions in political office. Finally, the Shura Council’s members are all selected by the King rather than appointed through a democratic election, and the body cannot produce any legislation solely on its own.
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the expedition website outlines how persuading Moharrak’s family to support her decision to climb Everest ‘was as great a challenge as the mountain itself’.
Despite such hurdles, Moharrak has certainly defied the odds and has no doubt inspired women all around the world to undertake similar feats. Most incredibly, this triumph means she has now climbed some of the tallest peaks in the world, having previously scaled the likes of Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Elbrus, Aconcagua and Pico de Orizaba.