By Nita Bhalla
NEW DELHI, May 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Nepali woman who was trafficked, exploited and abused as a maid in Egypt has conquered Mount Everest in a bid to highlight the dangers of trafficking in her impoverished Himalayan homeland where thousands are sold into slavery every year.
Kanchhi Maya Tamang, 28, is thought to be the first survivor of human trafficking to scale the world's highest mountain.
UN Women in Nepal - which supported Tamang's expedition - said in a statement on Monday that she reached Everest's peak on Saturday.
"My mission has first and foremost been to stop forced migration of women and girls from my district, which is listed as the top district for trafficking of women and girls in Nepal," Tamang radioed from Mount Everest Base camp, according to the statement.
"I want to foster initiatives that create local employment opportunities and empower women, both those facing forced migration and returnees like myself. We must empower girls - give them a rope, show them a rock, then ask them to climb it."
Nepal's National Human Rights Commission says up to 9,500 people were rescued from traffickers in 2014/15, a rise of almost 12 percent from the previous year.
But activists say the figures are a gross underestimate of the problem, particularly after two massive quakes struck Nepal in 2015, leaving many people vulnerable to traffickers promising a better life overseas.
Criminal gangs in Nepal dupe impoverished women and girls into working as slaves in urban homes in neighbouring India, as well as countries in the Middle East, while others are sold into brothels. Men are trafficked to work as manual labourers.
Tamang, who is from a village in Nepal's central district of Sindhupalchowk, was trafficked to India and then onto Egypt, where she worked as a domestic help for six years.
She was denied her monthly salary and faced verbal and mental abuse from her employer before managing to escape and return to Nepal.
Since then she has worked to prevent women and girls in her district from suffering the same fate and has become a prominent voice in her community, promoting girl's education and advocating for more opportunities.
Tamang said she wanted to climb the 8,848-metre (29,029 ft) summit to show women and girls in Nepal that they can achieve anything if given the chance.
Accompanied by a team of 20 people and led by Pemba Dorje Sherpa, who holds a record for the fastest ascent, Tamang reached the peak at 6.00 a.m. local time on May 20, and held up a poster which read: "We are people not property. Stop human trafficking."
"My win is a win for all women and girls," said Tamang. "And my mission is to contribute to a discrimination-free Nepal where all girls and women have freedom and an enabling environment to realise their full human potential."
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Emma Batha. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)