Climbing in skirts: The Cholitas' mission for women's empowerment

This group of bolivian women delivers a message of strength and unity that is worth listening to.
BY BACKGROUND  // STILLS from the film Cholitas (Prod. Arena Comunicación) // JUN 16, 2024
Spanish Version HERE
Stills credit: (Murciergo, J. (Director), (2019) Cholitas, Prod. Arena Comunicación
"We climb in these clothes because it's part of our identity" says Elena, a Bolivian woman who once dreamed of climbing mountains while looking at the hills, a vivid postcard of the Andean lands of Bolivia.

Years passed, and Elena not only grew up but also became the visible face of a group of Bolivian women who climb mountains around the world. We're talking about the Climbing Cholitas, a group of incredible women who are part of the predominant indigenous culture in Bolivia, the Aymaras. Fourteen climbing women share their pride in reaching the highest peaks while wearing their ancestral clothing and embracing their Aymara identity.

The Background team had the opportunity to speak with Elena. When we asked her about the beginnings of the Cholitas, she said: “The first time I climbed, it was for fun, I wanted to know how it feels to be at the summit. Then we formed a group to climb eight mountains over 6,000 meters. However, many people criticized us for being women, saying we couldn't climb because the snow would melt and we would fail. We suffered a lot of discrimination, but that made us stronger and pushed us to conquer more mountains. Now, we have managed to summit mountains in Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina, breaking barriers and stereotypes. We are empowered women, and we prove it with actions, not words.”
Stills credit: (Murciergo, J. (Director), (2019) Cholitas, Prod. Arena Comunicación

Cholitas are a group of woman who tirelessly pursue their dreams, against all odds. For them, climbing is not just about the summit but the journey and the values that the mountains teach us: unity, solidarity and connection with Pachamama.

We say Pachamama and not Earth because in their culture, they speak more of Pacha than of Earth. “For us, the mountains are sacred. That's why before climbing a mountain, we ask for permission by offering gifts to the Achachilas, which are the mountains, and to Pachamama, who is Mother Earth,” says Elena.

It's a special connection that dates back to ancestral times and has become one of the defining aspects for the Cholitas. Behind that connection and tireless struggle are women who have been challenging machismo for years, which seeks to restrict the freedom and strength of women.
Stills credit: (Murciergo, J. (Director), (2019) Cholitas, Prod. Arena Comunicación

“For us, the mountains are sacred. That's why before climbing a mountain, we ask for permission."

Mount Everest is their next destination, and Elena's conviction when she speaks makes anyone listening feel that they will achieve it: “For Everest, we are planning an expedition from April to June 2025. Four Cholitas, aged 27, 30, 38, and 40, will take part in this gigantic mission. The expedition will last approximately three months. This expedition will include Sherpa guides, Sherpa porters, cooks, cameramen, and camp assistants. We will also follow all the necessary rules, climb with fixed ropes and using oxygen.” This is why they launched this fundraising campaign at to make their dream a reality.
Cholitas are not only making a present change, but they are also building a legacy through their influence and inspiration for other women in Bolivia. This is reflected in Elena’s words: “In our group, we are 14 Cholitas, but there are new generations whom we teach, such as our daughters, nieces, or granddaughters. When they see us on social media or on TV, they tell us that they want to become Cholita climbers too.”

The Cholitas have admirably challenged traditional views about women, demonstrating their determination to continue breaking barriers. Their latest goal is to conquer the highest mountain in the world, showcasing their unwavering commitment to women empowerment.

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