On the 27th of May, Fatima Sajwani climbed to the top of “Margherita Peak,” a treacherous mountaintop in the Rwenzori Range of Uganda. She is the first climber from the UAE to raise the country’s flag on top of its surface, which is a staggering 5,109 metres above sea level. Becoming the first Emirati to mount “Margherita Peak” is a role that Sajwani doesn’t take lightly, viewing herself as an ambassador for her country. “I considered it my duty to raise the flag on the peak,” Sajwani shared with Grazia adding, “I took this expedition extremely seriously because, for once, I wasn’t just climbing for me or my community, but also for my country.”

Courtesy of TEDx

This trek isn’t Sajwani’s first mountain-climbing accomplishment. She has four other expeditions under her belt and plans on summiting Mont-Blanc in September. One excursion that stood out to her, in particular, was climbing Mount Aconcagua with a team led by Nims Dai, a world-record-holding mountaineer. “I observed his behaviour in the mountains and tried to learn as much as possible from him during the expedition,” Sajwani shared. She emphasises that “mountaineering may not seem to be a team sport, but while you’re up in the mountains, you find yourself in life-threatening situations every day, and you rely on your teammates to keep you alive.” It’s the ultimate trust exercise that forces people to cooperate with their team and put any differences aside. An incredible amount of training and sacrifice goes into any excursion. Still, Sajwani finds it worth representing her country and “inspiring other Arab and Emirati women to get out of their comfort zone and try out new sports.”

“I want other Muslim women to feel empowered when they see me practising extreme sports while dressing conservatively and wearing a hijab.”

Sajwani comes by her passion for female empowerment honestly. She attributes her resilience to her mother, her first role model, who taught her that women could do anything men can. Sajwani hopes to spread this empowerment with Arab and Emirati women with her record-breaking climbs, believing that “there is no sport that Emirati women cannot shine in.” She aims not only to motivate women to become athletes in male-dominated sports but also to make women feel comfortable participating in sports while wearing modest clothing and a hijab. Her doing so proves to her community that there’s no need to sacrifice personal values to reach a goal and also sets an example for us on the importance of representation. For Sajwani, mountaineering is a mode of leading by example “while also helping to shift public perceptions towards Emirati women on a more global scale.”

Sajwani has also made substantial efforts to welcome Arab and Emirati women into mountaineering, launching a hiking group exclusively for girls and women in the UAE. Its goal is to connect women of similar interests and support them as they enter the hiking world by organising participants into groups based on experience. “Hiking is not a very popular sport in Emirati culture,” Sajwani added, “and so I wanted to create a community for them that would support them in starting their hiking journey,” just as her family and friends have supported her.