Two Pakistani Women of Gilgit Baltistan Making a Mark in the World
By Siddhartha Garoo
Pakistan’s northernmost region called Gilgit Baltistan, is one of the most mystical places on the planet Earth. Although lesser known outside of Pakistan, it is home to the K2 mountain, the second highest peak in the world after Mount Everest.
With a population of two million people, it is very different from rest of Pakistan. The people are known to have high rates of literacy and are members of the Shia Muslim community drawn from various trans-Himalayan mountainous ethnic groups like Shina, Balti etc. Within this rainbow of diverse mountain communities is found a small but very highly educated and progressive Ismaili community of Gilgit Baltistan.
Ismaili faith is part of wider Shia Muslim family and His Highness Aga Khan IV is the imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili people. The Ismaili community of Gilgit Baltistan has a distinct Central Asian culture and the community shares culturally more with their Ismaili cousins from Tajikistan’s Gorno Badakhshan province than with people from other parts of Pakistan. Together, Ismaili people of Tajikistan & Pakistan are also known as “Pamiri people” after mighty Pamir mountain range.
Samina Khayal Baig- The Youngest Muslim woman to climb the Mt. Everest.
In a country, where raising female literacy remains a big challenge due to conservative norms, girls from Ismaili community of Gilgit Baltistan are making their marks in such diverse fields as sports, fashion and even mountaineering, a vocation, which is scary for even ordinary men. No one exemplifies this better than Samina Khayal Baig, who became the youngest Muslim woman to climb the Mount Everest at the age of 21 years. She even went on to conquer seven highest peaks of seven continents, becoming the only Muslim woman to have achieved that. A native of beautiful Hunza valley surrounded by mighty Karakoram Mountains, Samina’s brother Mirza Ali, is known to be her guide in mountaineering and her main source of encouragement. Samina has acquired a celebrity status in Pakistan, where she has been named among most inspiring youth icons of Pakistan. She has also been felicitated by the government of Pakistan and she remains an inspiration for millions of young Muslim women, who have interest in mountaineering.
Misbah Mumtaz Mughal- Pakistan’s upcoming fashion model.
Another woman achiever from Gilgit Baltistan’s Ismaili community is Misbah Mumtaz Mughal, Pakistan’s upcoming fashion model and a budding TV actress. The young, vivacious and confident Misbah has carved a niche for herself in Pakistan’s highly competitive fashion industry and is now considered to be one of the most promising faces of Pakistani fashion industry. She has modelled for some of the top fashion designers of Pakistan and has shot for all top Pakistani textile companies. Her beautiful, charming and “girl next door” personality has also earned her acting assignments in Pakistan’s highly popular Television plays.
It’s not just Samina and Misbah, who are making their mark in unconventional arenas but younger girls from Gilgit Baltistan’s Ismaili community are increasingly becoming visible in sports and other endeavours as well. The achievements of young Ismaili women in vocations, which may not be considered as the “run of the mill”, reflects in general on community’s progressive thinking, especially that related to girls.
These achievement of Ismaili girls of Gilgit Baltistan also reflects the encouraging support of male members of their family as well as emphasis on higher education and shows in general a higher status of women, that places Ismaili community of Gilgit Baltistan in a different league altogether not only in Pakistan but entire Southern Asia.
Siddharta is graduate of Columbia University, New York and has deep interest in Central Asian region.