Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Beacon No. 41: First Muslim Women Summit Everest


Today's Christian Science Monitor announces that two Muslim women have summitted Mt. Everest:

Farkhondeh Sadegh, a graphic designer, and Laleh Keshavarz, a dentist, hoisted their country's tricolor flag on the 29,035-foot summit, together with six Iranian men, on Monday morning.

It's no surprise the first Muslim women atop Everest are Iranians. (Six Iranian guys made it too.) Iran's women are standouts in their own region, and they don't just climb mountains; they're making strides in any sport that allows loose clothing:

[Climbing,] long popular with Iranian men, has gained enthusiasts among Iranian women, along with golf, skiing, taekwondo, and paragliding—activities in which the need to keep the body well-covered is not a serious hindrance to performance.

Their success on Everest will raise the profile of women's sports in Iran, which have surged in recent years. Earlier this year, Iran hosted the All Women Games for Muslim and Asian Capitals, in which some 600 women from 17 countries competed in events ranging from marksmanship to swimming.

Of course, it helps to have Dad around when you have to face down the mullahs over organizing a track meet:

Women's sports in Iran have been championed by Faezeh Hashemi, vice president of Iran's National Olympic Committee and a daughter of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the front-runner in next month's presidential elections. She initiated the Muslim Women's Games, held every four years, in 1993. Men may not attend the games, either as judges or spectators, so the athletes are free to compete in normal sporting garb.

Iranian women teach, heal, vote and hold office—and at least one is making a splash in auto racing, as the Times noted two weeks ago. Then there's Shirin Ebadi's Nobel Peace Prize.

Only three Iranian men (Khatami, Khamenei and Rafsanjani) are ever written about in the West, but stories of high-achieving Persian women keep piling up, starting with Elaine Sciolino's Persian Mirrors in 2000. These tales are undoubtedly increasing Iran's soft power because Iranian women are seen as freer, more savvy and more energetic than their counterparts elsewhere in the region.

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