Women Are Scaling New Heights in Afghanistan, and Erin Trieb Will Film It

By David Schonauer   Wednesday July 18, 2018

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”

So said Sir Edmund Hillary, who with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay was the first to climb to the summit of Mount Everest.

But for the five Afghan women now preparing to climb Mount Noshaq, at 24,580 feet the highest peak in their country, the challenge is not only a personal one: They will be facing off against the gender norms and restrictions in a male-dominated society.

“While women’s rights in Afghanistan have somewhat improved since the invasion of foreign forces almost two decades ago, many women and girls — especially in rural areas — still live in darkness,” note photojournalist Erin Trieb  and journalist Theresa Breuer, who are now crowdfunding a film project about the climb, titled An Uphill Battle, at Kickstarter. Go there to see a video about the project.

The climbers taking part in the ascent of Mount Noshaq are part of Ascend Athletics, a non-profit  all-female mountaineering organization and team based in Kabul, which, according to Trieb, “aims to nurture a crop of Afghan heroines passionate about improving their country and who inspire other women to break barriers.’”

Trieb, whom we profiled  in 2016, has had an intrepid career herself, having covered war in the Middle East and, more recently, witnessed Houston’s Hurricane Harvey up close. She and Breuer have been following the Ascend organization and climbing team for nearly two years. “Having worked in Afghanistan for many years, we were aware that Afghan society considers it shameful for women to exercise, especially outdoors, and knew that these women were taking huge risks by challenging societal and gender norms in their country,” Trieb told Feature Shoot  recently.

The risks the climbers face go beyond the dangers presented by the mountain. “Simply going outdoors to rock climb or hike in the mountains is a huge risk for these women — not so much from terrorist organizations, but more so from their own families,” Trieb said. “A lot of them come from backgrounds of abuse, forced marriages, and a lack of education. Many of their family members consider physical exercise for women to be shameful. One young woman told us how her uncle strangled her because he deemed her too rebellious.”

Erin Trieb and Theresa Breuer

“The two-year training program and attempt to summit Mount Noshaq creates a natural framework for the film,” notes Trieb and Beurer in their Kickstarter campaign. “Combining a rich tapestry of contemporary verité footage, sit-down interviews, conversational vignettes and home video, the film naturally juxtaposes the confinement these women face in their daily lives against the freedom and space they experience while in the mountains.”

Trieb and Breuer have already raised about a third of the financing necessary to make the film; the Kickstarter campaign will provide additional funding for post-production.


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