Afghan women gain hope through athletics

Ascend Athletics screens documentary on 17-day climbing expedition
July 10, 2018

The strength and determination of a group of Afghan women was on display at a recent screening of the VICE Impact film, “Ascending Afghanistan: Rising Women.”

The June 4 event at Lefty’s Alley and Eats in Rehoboth took place before a sold-out crowd, and proceeds from the event were donated directly to the program highlighted in the film, Ascend: Leadership through Athletics.

The film followed 13 young Afghan women from varied backgrounds, ages 15 to 23, before and during the program’s first expedition. 

Preparation for scaling previously unclimbed peaks – up to 14,000 feet – was intense. The girls trained with American guides Danika Gilbert and Emilie Drinkwater to ensure their safety, education and preparation for what would be a 17-day expedition in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley. Many of the girls had never even spent a day away from home.

As part of their training, team members practiced in Ghaza Stadium, formerly used by the Taliban for public punishment of those who defied Taliban law, including many women. The young Afghan women said they wanted to be a part of this journey to change the way people view women in their culture and provide a platform for young women to change their society.

“Changing stereotypes always comes with backlash, and we are aware of the risk. This will not change our decision to follow our dreams and goals and pave the path for women in our country. We want to set an example for other girls in the future and show everyone our abilities are greater than what is automatically placed upon us because of our gender,” one young woman says in the film.

“Men and women are supposed to be equal, but it is different in action and speech,” said another.

The film showed that before the ascent began, a final meeting was held with the parents of the young women, because all the families are taking a huge risk by allowing their daughters to engage in the program. 

The Ascend Team then began their expedition and faced both physical and mental obstacles. Some were affected by altitude and became sick, others were injured while climbing the mountain, yet the team became more united in their effort to conquer their goal together. Battling conditions, injury, fatigue did not stop these girls from carrying Afghanistan’s flag to the top of the 14,000-foot mountain.

Following the movie, two current Ascend team members answered questions via Google Hangouts, waking up at 4:30 a.m. in Afghanistan to take part in the event.

Attendees asked many questions of the young women, who were extremely grateful to share their stories and answer questions. The Cape Gazette is not identifying the women in the film or in the program out of concern for their safety.

“People, especially young girls have become very inspired and interested in the program and want to be a part of what we are doing. When they see us doing something that is different, it only inspires them. I personally learned that women can be leaders in anything and am so grateful to be a part of such an uplifting experience,” one young Ascend participant said.

“Being that the access to athletics for women are sparse, doing something like mountain climbing takes you directly into nature, where we can be at peace with each other. Although men do not accept that girls can do outdoor activities, among other things, we have so much hope for the future. There is a young generation of women out there that want to dream, work hard, get an education and gain tools for personal improvement and leadership skills; there is no reason they cannot. Women support each other and lead. We will continue to believe in our rights,” another young woman who participated in the video chat said.

Ascend: Leadership Through Athletics youth leadership development was founded by Marina LeGree in 2015 and operates programs in Kabul aimed at developing leadership skills in young women through athletics and community service. Go tot: