On December 23, 2014, four young Nepalese women of the Seven Summits Women Team reached the summit of Mt. Vinson Massif, the highest peak in Antarctica. This was the final climb in their goal to scale the highest mountains in each of the seven continents, a goal reached by only 350 people, including 51 women, in the past. These women, and the three other members of their team, pursued their goal not to “conquer” the mountains or principally for their own self-development, but to make a better world for everyone, especially women and young people. On their website, they identify their message as “Together We Reach Higher.”
The early lives of the members of the team were as challenging as their mountain-climbing. All were well aware of the especially strong constraints on opportunities for women in their home communities in Nepal. One left home at age 14 to escape plans for an arranged marriage. Another was told that she would be too ugly to marry and so she was sent to school to become self-sufficient. Others come from families who struggled without the financial resources to provide food and shelter for all the children. Education and a love of the outdoors was the means for each to overcome her early difficulties and go on to join the team.
Not surprisingly given their backgrounds, they climb the summits both for the joy of those experiences, but also as a means to further the causes of, as they state on their website, “education, empowerment, and environment.” Surrounding each adventure, they have visited and given presentations at schools, universities, and organizations, engaged in “empowerment exchanges” with local women, met with national and local officials, and more, all promoting their three causes. In the seven years they have been climbing, they have already reached tens of thousands of people. Ultimately, they plan to produce a book for young people about their seven climbs to encourage readers to believe in themselves and reach high for their dreams.
Their relationship to nature is an extremely important aspect of their work. They say on their website, “We believe that any development in education or empowerment is meaningless if we do not consider environment along the journey. We understand environment not as something around us but it’s who we are as well. We have experienced in our close encounters with nature that we are not separate from her. We are part, product and process of environment. It is our mission to share this with the world as we aspire to reach higher together.” Rather than seeing their climbs as ways to “conquer” nature, they view them as a means to become closer to the Earth, to realize that they are part of the Earth and She is part of them. These climbs are sacred homage to Nature.
Another essential component of their story is that they did not reach the tops of these mountains alone. As with any expedition, they needed significant resources and the list of sponsoring organizations is amazing, including international, national, and local groups, and individuals. These young women have not only made individual achievements, but have brought together immense resources globally to further the goals of education, empowerment, and environment, not an easy task in these days of division among nations and people.
The older and more experienced I become, the more I have come to believe that it is efforts like these – international, inclusive, bringing people together for positive change – that will make the biggest differences as we seek to bring about a world that is peaceful, just, and sustainable and further the causes of women’s rights and well being. Take a look at the website of these young women – www.sevensummitswomen.org – and be inspired! As their website says, “We welcome all, women and people of the world to come join us in the epic journey. Together We Reach Higher!”