LAST week, President Jakaya Kikwete saw off 90 energetic men and women from 36 African countries who set off to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with the objective of drawing attention to fighting violence against women and girls.
The steep climb started at Marangu, in Moshi rural district, Kilimanjaro region. "For those who come from outside Tanzania welcome to your home away from home.
I wish you a successful climb and I pray that all of you will reach the summit and feel the sense of conquest and accomplishment when you are on roof of Africa," president Kikwete told the climbers.
Tanzania was availed the great honour of hosting the memorable event going under the theme "The Africa UNITE Climb to End Violence against Women and Girls." The United Nations' Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon conceived the Africa UNiTE Campaign, and Tanzania strongly supported it.
The fact that 36 African countries were represented at that event signified Africa's commitment to ending violence against women and girls in continent. "I am even comforted to see that the campaign has taken a life of its own in Africa and is indeed highlighting in unprecedented ways the problem of gender based violence," President Kikwete said.
According to president Kikwete, violence against women is pervasive and has unfortunately been around for ages. It knows no colour, creed, age, status or nation. It's in every country. What brought everybody in Moshi was the fact that different governments in Africa want to put a stop to this cruel and worthless scourge.
According to president Kikwete, now is the time to intensify efforts to fight violence against women. "It does no good to women other than hurt them and they end up suffering both physically and emotionally. It is a violation of women's rights of the highest degree. It demeans them and lowers their esteem. It prevents women from enjoying life and above all their fundamental rights and freedoms," he says.
According to a study carried out by a non-governmental organisation fighting for women's rights, Kivulini in Mwanza the results indicate that 82 per cent of women in the Lake Zone and Singida Region are subjected to domestic violence. Tanzania was among the 50 countries in the world with a high percentage of domestic violence against women.
In a separate event, presenting findings on the Tunajali campaign, a special programme to stop violence against women and girls in Mwanza recently during a workshop, a Kivulini official, Jovitha Mlay said most women are too scared to desert their husbands despite the continuous violence.
She notes that since the Tunajali campaign started in 2008 over 300,000 people had been educated on the effects of violence against women. Mlay calls on Tanzanians to join hands to fight violence against women and girls for the betterment of the families and the nation.
One of the participants, Gervas Malembeka, said the government has spent a lot of money to treat victims of domestic violence.
He explained that the sad part of the story is that most of the victims' are violated by the people they were related to. He noted that domestic violence also prompted the increase in the number of street children as most of them ran to the streets when there was no peace at home.
According to president Kikwete, violence prevents women from enjoying life and above all their fundamental rights and freedoms, at times preventing them from realising their fullest potentials and possible contributions and benefiting equitably from development of their families and societies.
In many ways, he adds, violence against women retards their efforts for personal advancement and impedes efforts towards poverty reduction because women's potential is not utilized optimally. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) up to 70 per cent of women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Among women aged between 15 and 44, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and wars combined.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, between 13 per cent and 45 per cent of women suffer assault by their intimate partners during their lifetime and as we speak over 3 million girls are at risk of female genital mutilation. President Kikwete asserts that violence against women is undermining efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Africa, adding that some African countries may not achieve the MDGs that have key indicators on gender matters and others partly because of gender based violence.
Reducing poverty, ending hunger, deprivation and promoting socio-economic development for all peoples on all continents will not be realised if violence against women and girls continues. The gender related MDGs include MDG 2, on access to universal primary education; MDG 3 on promoting gender equality and empowering women and MDG 5 on reducing maternal mortality.
"We cannot achieve our objectives if young girls are abducted on their way to or from school. If in many of our countries, girls are forcefully married off at a very tender age, putting them at risk of getting pregnancy at too young an age and at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
"Shamefully there are over 14.1 million girls in Sub-Saharan Africa who are child brides, married before the age of 18," says president Kikwete. Violence against women and girls is a daily occurrence; it even takes place during times of peace in the confines of homes, on the streets, in bushes almost anywhere. It is exacerbated during conflict where rape becomes a weapon of war.
It affects women of all ages: children, teenagers, adults and the elderly. Nobody is spared. It is not uncommon these days to hear reports of old men defiling girls under the age of 10 years. President Kikwete says that African Heads of State and Government have taken a positive stand. They have enshrined in Article 4 (L) of the Constitutive Act of the African Union the inclusion of the gender parity principle.
This provides for a moral obligation for all Member States to enshrine this principle in their national constitutions, legislations and socio-economic development policies and programmes. Tanzania remains committed to the pursuit of gender parity and fighting violence against women. "We will not falter in this endeavour. I am ready to work with my colleagues in other countries to promote this noble cause in the African continent," says president Kikwete.
Secondly, African leaders have the ground breaking Protocol on African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. The Protocol was adopted by the African Union on 11 July 2003 at its second summit in Maputo, Mozambique. On 25 November 2005, having been ratified by the required 15 Member States of the African Union, the Protocol entered into force. As of July 2010, a total of 28 Member States had ratified and deposited the instruments of ratification with the AU Commission.
Today the Protocol is used as an important tool for holding Governments accountable on the commitments made. Thirdly, the leaders have the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa. There are many other such instruments. In addition to these instruments, there are various mechanisms that have been instituted to ensure that these frameworks are implemented.
"We know that policies and legal instruments mean very little without commensurate implementation measures and actions. Governments have to walk the talk. We must ensure that our actions speak louder than words. It is required of us to adequately reflect on our national plans, programmes and budget measures to promote gender parity and fight against gender based violence," president Kikwete said.
The Africa UNiTE Campaign to End Violence against Women and Girls provides an important opportunity to galvanise all into action to implement the frameworks and instruments referred to above.
It provides an unprecedented opportunity to engage in innovative sustained actions to prevent, prosecute, punish and provide effective responses to violence against women and girls. It invigorates everybody to renew commitments, to mobilise more strongly not only the Government entities but also the private sector, civil society, community based organisations, men and our traditional leadership structures and decision makers.