Raha Moharrak: First Saudi Woman to Climb Mount Everest

Raha Moharrak has become the first Saudi woman to scale Mount Everest.

Approaching from Nepal's side of the mountain, Moharrak was one of 64 climbers who reached the 29,035 ft (8,850 meter) peak the morning of May 18 after climbing all night from the highest camp on South Col, the same starting point pioneers Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay took in 1953.

Moharrak has more to prove than most because despite recent steps in the right direction, in many ways the Saudi guardianship system continues to treat women as minors. Saudi women are forbidden from driving automobiles. They also do not have the right to operate without male approval or supervision. This means that women also need male approval to work or travel abroad.

Possibly the most important and the most damaging, Saudi women are almost always unable to win custody of a child or to legally defend themselves in cases of domestic violence, in a country where as the National Society for Human Rights reports, more than 75% of offender parties in family violence cases are either husbands, fathers, or male divorcees.

For women, Saudi Arabia is a marital battleground, where no legislation exists to help female victims of domestic abuse and marital rape is not considered a crime.

Reported during the first week of April, Saudi women are now allowed to ride bicycles, something they were restricted from doing before. However, many restrictions — female riders must still be covered head to toe, be accompanied by a male guardian, ride only in assigned areas and only be riding for purpose of pleasure, not transportation — still remain.

Another step in the right direction is King Abdullah's 2011 ruling which will allow women to vote in municipal elections in 2015. The King also promised to appoint women as full members of the Shura Council in the future.

Despite these small advances, Saudi Arabia still comes out on top for worst living conditions for women. Essentially what it boils down to is that the male guardianship law must be abolished before Saudi women can even begin to see the light at the end of the equal rights tunnel. Until then, the main problem of men ruling and controlling every part of women's existence will continue as it has been for centuries.

Moharrak is living proof that not only Saudi but all women deserve equal rights as men. The 25-year-old has accomplished a feat that has resulted in over a hundred fatalities in the past and is something many average humans — female or male — will never be able to achieve.

Along with the new rulings done by King Abdullah, more women like Moharrak need to step forward and challenge the Saudi patriarchy if there is every going to be any movement towards equality.

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Gabi Chepurny

I fight stereotypes.

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