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Sasha Digiulian: “Women Climbers Need Your Help Fleeing Afghanistan”

Thousands of activists now face persecution in Afghanistan. Some of them are climbers.

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Right now, as you read this, thousands of people are desperately trying to escape from Afghanistan since the Taliban seized control of the country on Sunday. You’ve seen the chaos in the news. Among these would-be refugees are members of Ascend Athletics, Afghanistan’s first female mountaineering team, part of a program that has produced hundreds of strong female climbers since 2014. To save these young women from this oppressive regime, we need to raise our voices. We must lobby to ensure that these and other at-risk women are included in the United States’ evacuation plans. 

A 501(c)3 nonprofit, Ascend works to empower young women in Afghanistan through climbing, leadership programs, and community activism initiatives, all of which help give the students the confidence to further propagate change in their world. In 2018, an Ascend graduate made the first female ascent of Noshaq, Afghanistan’s highest peak at 24,580 feetan accomplishment that was both physically demanding and symbolically important, since no woman would have been allowed to climb under Taliban rule. Ascend’s students and graduates have served as inspiring role models to a generation of young Afghan women, yet because of their commitment to women’s empowerment in Afghanistan, they are nowlike thousands of other advocatespotential targets for the Taliban.   

What has happened in Afghanistan over the last decades is tragic. But what has transpired over the last week is devastating. These young women may soon be deprived of the simple human freedom to express themselves through athletics. No one should be denied basic human rights because of their gender or beliefs. It’s clear that for the women of Afghanistan and the Ascend team, all of these rightsrights that we in the United States take for grantedare in jeopardy.

Please call your representative and insist that the United States government protects these vulnerable Afghans and provides pathways for resettlement.

Photo: Camille Fiducia/Ascend

My Involvement with Ascend

I first learned about Ascend Athletics through a film, “Ascending Afghanistan: Women Rising,” that my fiancé, Erik Osterholm, directed with filmmaker Pablo Durana and Laura Hudock. It is a film about Afghanistan’s first female mountaineering team, and their attempt to make the first ascent of a previously unclimbed peak in Panjshir Province while also conquering the complex social boundaries associated with young women in Afghanistan.

Photo: Camille Fiducia/Ascend

I was deeply moved by the fearlessness these women demonstrated by climbing even when it ran contrary to the wishes of their families and their society. Through climbing, I have learned some of my most valuable life lessons, including goal setting, perseverance, struggle, failure, confidence, and understanding more about myself and the environment. Growing up as a white woman in the United States, I have had the privilege of access to sports, and the support of both of my parents in pursuing these interests. I could compete openly for my country, without  worrying about rules dictating what I wore, requiring me to be accompanied by a man, or inhibiting my participation in the first place. Since advocating for universal athletic access for people, regardless of nationality and gender, has always been a passion  of mine, I joined Ascend Athletics’s board of directors. 

Right now, these women need our help. You can support them by writing to your local representatives, and by donating. 

For more information about Ascend, please visit Ascend’s Website.

For more information about how to help Afghan refuges, click here.

To read Paul Stern’s story about working with Ascend, see “We’re Going Dark.”

Photo: Camille Fiducia/AscendThis article is free. Sign up with a Climbing membership, now just $2 a month for a limited time, and you get unlimited access to thousands of stories and articles by world-class authors on climbing.com plus a print subscription to Climbing and our annual coffee-table edition of Ascent.  Please join the Climbing team today.