Mona Shahab is one tough and adventurously spirited Saudi woman. Child Clinical psychologist and co-founder of The Empowerment Hub, one of Mona’s greatest passions in life is mountaineering. Her love for hiking started young when she was traveling around Spain with her parents. But her real love for mountaineering began in 2007 when was invited by a couple of friends to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately, she couldn’t make it because of visa issues, but she vowed to one day climb it and completed this promise in 2012. This was just the start.
Mona trains hard for her mountain climbs, often spending hours every day on a treadmill carrying a backpack full of litres of water and books. She also throws running, spinning and Bikram Yoga into the mix. Her most memorable climb was Mount Aconcagua – Aconcagua4Marwa. Marwa was her friend and fellow climbing companion who passed away after she gave birth. Mona and Marwa hiked to Everest Base Camp together in 2012, and had wanted to climb Aconagua the following year in 2013. Mona is often asked why she climbs and her answer is simply because she loves it. “I personally climb because I simply love the feeling of being on a mountain and climbing for a cause. It humbles you and keeps you grounded. I’ve dedicate every climb to a cause. Whether it’s fundraising for cancer patients, or to give 100 Syrian refugee children an opportunity to go back to school in Lebanon, what keeps me going when altitude hits is the cause” says Mona. She is currently focusing on technical climbs within the Alps and is also working on a project that incorporates hiking and therapy for unaccompanied minors and refugees.
Mona is an all-round social advocate and dubbing herself a ‘citizen of the world’ on her Instagram account. She is currently living between the Netherlands (completing her PhD in Clinical Psychology at Leiden University) and Saudi Arabia (after a living in Boston, USA for 9 years). Mona is a co-founder of The Empowerment Hub, a grass-root initiative born in Riyadh. Mona is an inspiration to Saudi women around the world. The Empowerment Hub aims to boost Saudi women and youth’s health and fitness awareness by putting together fitness and wellness events that have an active, social and educational angle. The founders of the Empowerment Hub combined their love for fitness, health and giving back to their community. A percentage of the proceeds are donated to initiatives, charities, and NGOs in Saudi Arabia.
Just because women live in Saudi Arabia, doesn’t mean they can’t be adventurous. Mona believes that ‘when there’s a will, there’s a way’. “Change begins with dialogue. Reason with those who say ‘I don’t think you can’ or ‘you don’t have it in you’ or the more common saying ‘But how? You’re a female after all’. Prove those people wrong and let them be your drive. It’s ok to be different for we don’t always have to fit in. But throughout chasing your dreams and adventures, don’t forget to pay it forward, be humble and kind” says Mona.
Mona believes that in Saudi Arabia, culture and religion are very much intertwined and that sometimes it can be a challenge to untangle them from one another. “I believe the image of Saudi women inside the Kingdom and abroad is stereotyped. There is no denying that Saudi is the only country where females are unable to drive and where the guardianship law that raises eyebrows, still exists. However, what does not make headlines in western newspapers is that more than 50% of females attend graduate school in comparison to Saudi males; when female education in the Kingdom was only born in the 1960s. Additionally, a large number of businesses are owned and run by Saudi females.” She also goes on to say: “Our late King Abdullah shifted perceptions and perspectives so eloquently when he announced the inclusion of females in the Shoura Council. Women are becoming financially independent. Many are appointed leadership roles in the public and private sector. Saudi women have proven to their male counterparts and the outside world that they have a voice, and that passion is their drive”. Mona is proud of her heritage and believes Saudi Arabia is on its way to female equality: “We’ve come a long way, yet, we have a longer way to go and with the backing of our current leadership, I wholeheartedly believe, sooner rather than later, these stereotypes will be long forgotten”.
Follow her latest adventures on Instagram (@monakshahab) and Twitter (@monakshahab) for some seriously inspiring female goals!