The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs in partnership with Fambul Initiative Network for Equality (FINE-SL) have concluded a three-day policy dialogue and capacity building program for traditional and religious leaders, and youth in the 13 chiefdoms in Bombali district to change the perception of gender equality in their communities.
Acting deputy country representative of UNFPA, Isatu Kajue, described her organisation as a developmental agency that is keen on promoting sexual reproductive health and rights "because they believe in the concept of every one counts".
Mrs. Kajue said they consider the male encounter as very important and sensitive in addressing gender-based violence and maternal mortality reduction in the country, noting that before now they had been supporting various women advocacy groups in the country but realised there were lots of obstacles in their work. She said women's rights must be promoted as according to her, there is no way gender-based violence (GBV) and maternal mortality reduction (MMR) could be achieved without the total involvement of men.
Deliberating on the theme "Celebrating Dignity and Promoting Gender Equality", the chairman of the ceremony who also doubles as the Principal Social Development Officer North in the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, William Bangura, said gender is all about male and female interaction to work side by side in promoting equal opportunity, rights and respect for each other.
Mr. Bangura thanked the UNFPA for supporting women's groups in his operational areas in addressing MMR, GBV, HIV/AIDS and teenage pregnancy especially the involvement of traditional birth attendants (TBAs) who he said have been transformed into community wellness advocators. He described their work as very important and timely.
Rev. George Buannie of FINE-SL, in giving a background to their program, said their organisation is aiming at accessing and evaluating maternal mortality, gender-based violence and teenage pregnancy in the country. He said government and its partners have reached out to communities with sensitization aiming at achieving the Millennium Development Goals 3, 4 and 5.
Northern Regional Gender Desk Officer in the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, Ibrahim Kamara, said in repositioning gender in the district everybody has a role to play especially in addressing MMR, GBV, HIV/AIDS and teenage pregnancy. He said the training will help transform men's beliefs in gender equality and noted that the training is part of the male participation in addressing MMR and GBV in the country.
Chairman of the Bombali Human Rights Committee, Abass J. Kamara, described gender-based violence as a cultural perception based on the fact that they are in most cases not discussed or even taking to the police for further investigation. He said GBV is more prevalent in the north than other regions and therefore called on the councils to help reduce GBV which according to him is on the increase.
Deputy Mayor of the Makeni City Council, Isatu Fornah, thanked UNFPA for transforming the lives of citizens in the country in understanding gender issues and promoting reproductive right and health related issues.
Mrs. Fornah called on traditional and religious leaders to put very stringent bye-laws in their respective communities to ensure that MMR, GBV, teenage pregnancy, early marriage and initiation are addressed in the district.
The Social Services Officer in the Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs Ministry, Fatu Kargbo, said the training is organized as a result of empowering men and women to effectively contribute towards sustainable development in their respective communities. She called on all participants to take the training seriously and make meaningful contribution in developing their communities.