Speech Delivered by UN Women Deputy Executive Director John Hendra at the Flagging off Ceremony of the Kilimanjaro Initiative

Date: Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Speech Delivered by UN Women Deputy Executive Director John Hendra at the Flagging off Ceremony of the Kilimanjaro Initiative, 5 March 2012.
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Your Excellency President Kikwete;

The Executive Secretary of the East Africa Community;

The Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region;

The Honorable Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children;

Distinguished Representatives of African Member States and the Africa Union;

Distinguished members of the Diplomatic Corps;

The UN Resident Coordinator and members of the UN Country Team;

Honourable Members of Parliament;

Honourable Ministers;


Friends and Colleagues;

It is really a privilege and a huge personal pleasure to be part of this very important occasion.

At the outset, I would like to warmly thank H.E President Kikwete and the Government and people of Tanzania for hosting this historic event. I would also like to bring to everyone very warm greetings from Madame Bachelet, Under Secretary-General and UN Women's Executive Director, who very much wanted to be here today herself but needs to be in New York for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

Your Excellency, this event is for all of us an auspicious occasion for several reasons.

First, because it puts at centre stage an issue that is one of the critical human rights challenges of our time - the right of women and girls to live free of violence.

Secondly, because it once again shows the power of collective action. This is evident not only by the level of participation here today - especially our very inspiring climbers from around the world, but also the collective action between the United Nations, national governments, and civil society partners that went into making this event possible.

And thirdly because climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to speak out against gender-based violence is a very strong and clear message - and action — that silence is no longer an option.

Your Excellency's presence is a symbol of the highest political engagement that is required for action to end violence against women and girls on the Continent. And our presence here today is also evidence of what we can achieve, working together not only as One UN, but with member states and our national counterparts..

Finally, for me personally, it is wonderful to be back home in Tanzania where I was so privileged to serve as UN Resident Coordinator from 2002 to 2006. And for me, it is indeed apt to hold today's event in this great country where I strongly believe the real Tanzanian brand is not just the beautiful natural sites like Kiliminjaro, but the principles held so dear by all Tanzanians - peace and stability; justice and solidarity; and respect for human rights, tolerance and equity.

It is in the spirit of these principles, and especially the fundamental universal right of women and girls to live free of violence, that in 2008 the UN Secretary General launched the UNite Say No Campaign to End Violence Against Women and Girls. African Governments and peoples subscribed overwhelmingly to the Say No Campaign with President Kikwete being one of the first African leaders to sign up for the Campaign together with his entire Cabinet.

It was also in this same spirit that African Heads of State and Government took up the clarion call to indeed Unite as a Continent to intensify efforts to end violence against women and girls in January 2010 with the inclusion of a Africa UNite component.

Consequently, this Climb is a culmination of all these efforts and is important not only for Africa but elsewhere as violence against women and girls is a universal problem that governments and societies the world over face. It has many facets, it has many forms and it happens to different individuals in varying degrees. What is common though is that it is a gross violation of human rights and has no place in any of our homes, in any of our communities or in larger society.

Violence against women and girls is pervasive across Africa. In the sub-Saharan region, between 13% and 45% of women suffer assault by intimate partners during their lifetimes. Recent studies from the region show that up to 47% of girls in primary or secondary school report sexual abuse or harassment from male teachers or classmates, and over 3 million girls in Africa are at risk of female genital mutilation. Evidence abounds on the effects of conflict and how rape has been used as a weapon of war.

It is these statistics that have to move us to action. And it is these statistics that must make an imprint on our social conscience to stand together and take action.

Indeed, many challenges lie ahead — including access to critical services. Even in wealthier countries, services such as shelters, health care and post-rape care and legal and social assistance are not easily available or accessible — especially for those who are excluded and `hard-to-reach'- such as migrant women, women living with disabilities, women living with HIV, or those living in remote or rural areas.

To help raise greater awareness of these challenges, late last year, UN Women's Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet, announced “16 Steps to End Violence Against Women. Included among these is an ambitious but critical global drive over the coming decade focused on advancing universal access to services for all women and girl survivors of violence. In situations of violence and oppression, women must have somewhere to turn for their safety and protection, for their access to health care, and for their access to justice.

Sadly, violence against women remains one of the most pervasive violations of human rights and yet one of the least prosecuted crimes. Impunity is still the norm, rather than the exception.

Violence against women and girls is a heavy burden for all. It has devastating costs and consequences, on the lives of those affected but also to societies and economies as a whole. Such violence translates into millions of dollars of lost wages and productivity and additional health, counseling, police and legal costs to already overstretched public budgets every year.

Through the auspices of the African Union and the various Regional Economic Communities, African Governments are now putting in place important legislation to end gender based violence, developing policies and action plans, and enhancing social mobilization.

It is very encouraging that recently, Heads of State of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region adopted a strong Declaration with specific actions to end sexual violence in the region. The historic declaration promises among other things to institute special courts to try perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence and to support increased budgetary allocation towards the provision of special services for victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). In addition, senior officials from security organs in 12 countries are implementing the 2010 Kigali Declaration on ending violence against women and girls.

We must all do more - much more - to end the violence. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recently put it, ‘Our challenge is to ensure that the message of ‘zero tolerance' is heard far and wide. To do that, we must engage all society - and especially young people. That is the heart of the Africa UNiTE campaign, raising awareness and promoting concrete actions by each citizen, by each community, and by governments across Africa to keep women and girls safe in their homes, communities, and workplaces. The Campaign rests on the following three important pillars:

  • Prevent violence against women and girls because Africa can;
  • Promote justice and end impunity because Africa cares; and
  • Provide services to survivors because Africa must!

Not only must African countries continue to enshrine these pillars into laws, institutions, and programming frameworks, these pillar also must resonate in the minds and hearts of all.

The over 75 committed climbers from 36 African countries and around the world starting their climb today are doing just that - putting a very tangible face to this critical issue. I would like to join others in wishing each you a very successful ascent up this magnificent Mount Kilimanjaro. You are all making an amazing and unique contribution to the Campaign and very tangibly represent the commitment, level of creativity and innovation that is required by each us to help end violence against women and girls.

I would also like to express our sincere appreciation to all those that have worked so hard towards the success of this event: the Ministry of Community Development, Gender and Children and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the African Union and in particular the Division for Women; my colleagues of the UNCT under the leadership of the United Nations Resident Coordinator for the coordination and technical support; the Kilimanjaro Initiative for the active involvement and technical guidance throughout the planning process; and all partners supporting the side events taking place concurrently with the Climb both here and in Arusha.

Finally, I have also learned that various countries including Burundi, Cameroon, Ethiopia, South Africa and Kenya, are organizing simultaneous solidarity climbs or hikes. I want to wish them well.

I, for one, have no doubt of both the importance, and geographic significance, of today's climb up Kili to help change mindsets.

As one of our climbers here today, Ms. Rosie Tebogo Motene, a South African actress and television presenter, has said (and I quote): “Our inner strength can be compared to a candle burning bright, When that candle goes out the light is gone. Our strength and core are diminished — Abuse causes that. Never let anyone blow out your candle; Never allow an abuser to diminish you.

What's more, as Mwalimu (Julius K Nyerere, First President of Tanzania) also once said (and I quote):

We, the people of Tanganyika, would like to light a candle and put it on top of Mount Kilimanjaro which would shine beyond our borders giving hope where there was despair, love where there was hate and dignity where before there was only humiliation.

While the challenges are indeed many, with determination like that shown by our climbers, with strong political will and commitment as shown by President Kikwete and with effective partnership as shown by so, so many today, together we can end violence against women.

We all have a responsibility to keep the candle burning bright in womens' and girls' lives - both at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and all around the world.

I thank you.