The Kilimanjaro Initiative: mobilising rural women

Thursday, September 8, 2016 - 10:24

Scaling the heights of women’s land rights

Towering at 5,895 metres above sea level, the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro stands out not only as the highest peak in Africa, but also the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, rising in breathtaking isolation from the surrounding coastal scrubland. According to some writers the name Kilimanjaro might mean Mountain of LightMountain of Greatness orMountain of Caravans. It is also aptly described by others as the overseer of the continent or simply the summit of Africa. One might be excused for falling in love with the endearing scenery, the insatiable desire to inch closer, and even attempt a climb.

But climbing Kilimanjaro is no simple task. The trek is tough and certainly a test of one’s endurance. Thus Kilimanjaro presents a powerful symbol of both challenge and victory: tough to climb but the achievement and experience is not only satisfying but equally motivating and very awe inspiring! Similarly, the journey to securing women’s land tenure rights has been tenacious but ultimately surmountable. What better place than this for a starting point to spread a message of hope across Africa and the world?

The Kilimanjaro Initiative is an idea that was conceived by rural women supported by civil society organisations in 2012 to claim African women’s rights to access and control over land and natural resources. The common adhesive for the Kilimanjaro Initiative is the desire to end the ubiquitous and continued violation of women’s rights to land. This is fanned by the laxity in implementation of key international, continental and country level policies and frameworks that would protect and guarantee women’s land tenure rights. In some countries, land policies have been designed, promulgated and even launched without any genuine concern for the human resources and other logistical requirements necessary to carry out the wide-ranging reforms that are proposed.

Whereas the African continent boasts of progressive policies and legal frameworks that seek to enhance women’s rights to land, implementation has too often been weak or even non-existent. In some cases, existing laws and implementation mechanisms have been swept away by new policies without regard for managing the transition itself.

These seemingly progressive gestures are yet to result in equitable outcomes for women and men.

This has a number of consequences. Large scale land acquisitions devoid of satisfactory adherence to the principles of free prior and informed consent have continued to dispossess the poor from their land, impacting the security of their food and livelihoods. Further, exposure to gender based violence increases as a result, as does the exacerbation of the burden of unpaid care work arising from inadequate gender responsive public services amongst other factors.

More work is needed to ensure a transition towards the realisation of gender justice, where women will enjoy the same rights to land and natural resources as men - not just in procedures, but in outcomes in terms of secure access and rights to land that respond to women’s particular circumstances.

Women2Kilimanjaro Uganda

The Initiative seeks to mobilise rural women from across Africa towards an iconic moment at the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro in October 2016, to demand concrete action in securing their land rights. Four regional caravans are expected to depart simultaneously from the North, South, East, and West, culminating in a mass African rural women’s assembly at the foot of the mountain. This will be followed by an ascent of the mountain by a delegation of women to symbolically launch and proclaim a charter of principles and demands on women’s access to and control over their land, from the highest peak in the continent.

There is growing momentum with the African Union level Land Policy Initiative (LPI) having been successful in securing strong commitments and principles in relation to gender and women’s rights agreed at the most senior levels of the African Union (Heads of State level), such as the 30% registered land target. LPI has now launched a campaign targeting 30% of all registered land to be given to women, which squarely compliments the Kilimanjaro drive.

With 2016 declared by the African Union as the “African Year of Human Rights with particular focus on the Rights of Women”, coupled with the transition into Sustainable Development Goalsour focus on rural women’s right to land and natural resources couldn’t have been timelier if we are to move towards a food-secure continent. The Kilimanjaro initiative offers a unique window of opportunity to unify and amplify the struggles of rural women.

Women have had enough of the plethora of beautiful paper work. They now want action from their leaders.

The Kilimanjaro initiative was officially launched in March 2016 in Abuja Nigeria, and the wave is unstoppable. Over 20 countries have already subscribed to the initiative, with women having mobilised and organised themselves into rural women assemblies. National formations (comprising support NGOs and the rural women) have taken shape, with some already having organised “mini Kilis” at country level that engendered national charters in readiness for the caravans and the mass assembly. Advocacy efforts have also been directed to the AU summit as well the AU permanent representative council. All this is coordinated by a steering group that draws members from the support NGOs and the Pan-African Rural women council.

Mr. Mutui (R), the local NGO representative and  native to the area showing

For this to be a success, women’s leadership and supporter mobilisation, from both the local level and across the continent, is essential. You can follow the progress of the campaign via the #Women2Kilimanjaro hashtag, and please share your messages of support!

To see more photos from the "mini Kilis" and the main assembly as they happen, visit the Women to Kilimanjaro Flickr channel.