The Mount Kilimanjaro climb
TAKING THE FIGHT AGAINST GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE TO NEW HEIGHTS
On 9 March, 70 intrepid, exhausted activists reached the base of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, to extensive celebrations. They had accomplished a grueling yet rewarding feat: taking awareness of gender-based violence to new heights.
The challenging five-day summit climb was organized as part of the Africa UNiTE to End Violence against Women Campaign, supported by UN Women, UN country teams in Africa, the UN Federal Credit Union (UNFCU) and the Kilimanjaro Initiative. The group was as dynamic as it was diverse: youth activists and sports personalities joining human right lawyers, journalists, and pop stars, as well as staff from UN offices, NGOs, and governments across Africa.
“I never thought I would make it, but it is possible to achieve the impossible,” said Rumbidzai Adebayo, a senior official from the African Union, who had both joined the climb and promised to advocate within the African Union so that member states understand the importance of ratifying human rights instruments that promote women’s rights.
“Abuse against women is so pervasive, we have to do something dramatic to raise awareness to a whole new level,” said Rosie Motene, a participating South African actress. Climb organizer Tim Challen, Founder of the Kilimanjaro Initiative and Business Development Manager at the United Nations Federal Credit Union (UNFCU), added, “Mount Kilimanjaro has the power to bring people together and underline the fact that nothing is impossible, as long as you believe you can do it and work together.”
“This climb has literally brought the fight against gender violence to new heights,” said Michael J. Connery, Jr., president/CEO of UNFCU, a climb sponsor. “There was a great sense of determination on the mountain, and may this be a strong sign of the progress to come.”
It is estimated that between 13-45 per cent of women suffer assault by intimate partners during their lifetimes in Africa. Between 40-60 per cent of known sexual assaults within the family are committed against girls younger than 15. The climbers drew attention to this pandemic of violence, returning from the journey with personal commitments as well as national pledges from the governments and agencies they represented.
Among these, the Government of Tanzania pledged to review and reform laws (such as the Marriage Act and Inheritance Act), and take practical measures to improve access to justice, such as setting up gender desks in district police stations and referral hospitals, and dedicating resources for gender-sensitive judicial and security sector reform. The Kenyan Government reaffirmed its commitment to passing the Family Protection Bill and other legislation to end impunity, and to make justice accessible for women by providing free legal and specialized services. Representatives of the Government of Ghana committed to research the prevalence and patterns of violence against women since the passing of its domestic violence law in 2007; and to provide shelters for survivors of violence in all regions. The Namibian Government pledged to improve legislation and policies, and to improve the collection and use of forensic evidence to prosecute perpetrators of gender-based violence.
A myriad social mobilization and awareness raising initiatives took the message farther throughout the region during the week of the climb, from youth leadership forums to free legal clinics. The spirit of the endeavor was kept alive elsewhere in Africa through solidarity climbs, walks and runs in Burundi, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Kenya, involving thousands of people from all walks of life.