Climb 2012 – Africa Unite to End Violence Against Women & Girls
In March 2011, soon after coming down from Mount Kilimanjaro, I wrote a concept note for the 2012 climb. The theme focused on the issue of sexual violence against women, as I know one too many women who have suffered from such abuse. Having achieved a certain maturity, KI was able to organize such a sensitive climb. As a symbolic action, the aim was to reach the summit on 8 March, International Women’s Day. The paper was soon sent to UN Women, to gage their interest and potential support.
It turns out UN Women were also planning a similar climb in July 2011, and so we decided to join forces and highlight the Africa UNiTE – ‘Say No to violence against Women and Girls’ campaign. UN Women would engage governments and civil society, whilst providing extensive visibility. KI would bring in its expertise in organizing large purposeful climbs on Mount Kilimanjaro.
The two main objectives of the 2012 climb were to get African governments to commit towards ending violence, and to highlight the issue at a global level. To make this point, we decided that each African country should be represented on the mountain.
After months of protracted planning, 70 climbers representing 34 African countries assembled at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro on 5 March 2012. They included youth, members of civil society groups, celebrities, and representatives from the public and private sectors. In addition, 2 chief guides, 34 assistant guides, 6 cooks, 16 waiters and 84 porters provided logistical support for the 5-day climb.
With President Kikwete of Tanzania agreeing to flag us off, there was increased anxiety at the start of the ascent. We had to work around his protocol, positively distracting our focus from the climb itself. As we reached the first hut, a few nerves kickedin to the extent someone had a panic attack. It isn’t surprising. The ‘unknown’ that lies ahead often weighs on those who climb this mountain.
On the 2nd and 3rd days, the tensions eased as climbers found their focus and rhythm. Friendships started forming and experiences were exchanged. This group was phenomenal: youth and gender activists; survivors of abuse; celebrities; civil servants; military personnel; and CEOs started becoming a single team – from Zimbabwe to Morocco, Kenya to Nigeria.
During the ascent, as I listened to climbers’ stories and the hardships they had fought in their communities, I had no doubt most would make it onto the ‘rooftop of Africa’. Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is as much about mental strength compared to physical endurance. And if you can fight violence, you can overcome all.
It is when you approach the last hut, Kibo, that you really start feeling the effect of high altitude. It can take your mind into another world – your thoughts get jumbled, as you start losing grasp of your own reality and comfort. It marks the beginning of a 24 hour struggle, when you will be pushed to the very limits of your physical awareness and consciousness – for many it marks the beginning of a life-transforming experience.
I never like to give figures on how many made it to the summit. Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, especially when doing it for a cause, is far more than that. The climb is primarily about a journey, one that you do as a ‘group’ as well as for your ‘self’. The mountain teaches you lessons on humility and team work, and to have a greater appreciation of your surroundings.
Climb 2012 was special. It showed that diversity and difference are no excuse for a lack of unity, and demonstrated how positive action is instrumental in making our way towards an objective.
For more information on the climb and the ‘Say No’ campaign, visit: http://saynotoviolence.org/around-world/news/mount-kilimanjaro-climb