On 9 March, 70 intrepid, exhausted activists returned to 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.
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 that they represented.
Among these, the Government of Tanzania pledged to review and reform discriminatory laws such as the Marriage Act and Inheritance Act, and take practical measures to improve access to justice; for example 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 legislations to end impunity, while making justice more accessible to women with 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 its 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.
During the week of the climb, a myriad of social mobilization and awareness raising initiatives took the message farther throughout the region, from youth leadership forums to free legal clinics. The spirit of the endeavor was also kept alive through solidarity climbs, walks and runs in Burundi, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Kenya, involving thousands of people from all walks of life.
Speaking at the ceremony at the completion of climb, UN Women Regional Director for Southern Africa, Nomcebo Manzini, compared the climb experience to the arduous journey and struggle faced by many African women survivors of violence “Sometimes the road is smooth and joyful, while many times it is fraught with difficulty, hardship and even abuse,” she said. ‘’Reaching the heights of Mount Kilimanjaro is symbolic of the quest for freedom and joy that many women feel when they are released from abusive relationships.”
See the Kilimanjaro Climb Public Service Announcement , as well as photos from the climb at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/saynotoviolence/sets/72157629169247778/