On behalf of the people of Sierra Leone, and in my own name, I welcome you all to Sierra Leone. We feel very honored to be hosts of this seminal Mano River Union Conference on Energy and Gender. I am glad that we are focusing on Women's empowerment through access to energy.Women's Empowerment and Energy Access are two major national priorities for me and my Government. So, when in October 2012, my Special Adviser on Gender and Women' Affairs in consultation with the Minister of Energy briefed and advised that the Government takes the global leadership in hosting this very significant and historical conference, I immediately gave my approval.
Over the next three days, you will hear about successful case studies from the MRU and other ECOWAS countries. You will hear from our 'Barefoot Women Solar Engineers' here in Sierra Leone who, through their Barefoot Collegehave demonstrated a clear case for the positive benefits of energy access and women's economic empowerment. Access to energy has created multiple economic opportunities for these women and their communities. I encourage you to visit the college during your stay.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, to ensure that women's voices and priorities are not only heard, but also acted upon, my Government has made Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment a priority pillar in the Agenda for Prosperity - our core national development programme during my second term. Under this pillar there is a specific cluster on Women's Access to Energy especially new, renewable and efficient energy. We believe that access to efficient energy empowers women, ensures productivity, enhances family health and improves the quality of life of a people.
Our women in the MRU, I salute you. I salute you all because in the midst of challenges over generations, you have persevered, you have showed commitment, and you have continued to keep our families going in the best directions possible. During our civil wars in the Mano River Basin, you stood for peace; you dragged men unto the negotiating table; and commanded the nations to embrace democracy. Today you are again blazing a new trail. With great energy, you are deliberating on energy; with powerful voices, you are discussing empowerment;and you are again bringing to the table mattersof domineering importance. Only an unwise man would dare not listen to the determined voices of women. I, as President of Sierra Leone will listen;and I will act on your recommendations. This is the wise course of action; it is the better way to go if we are to become truly modern nations.
We have heard from the Executive Director of the Environmental Agency. Today, we are cutting down old and young trees to provide cooking energy, heating, lighting, food preservation and many more for our basic needs. Women's time burden in accessing energy is a hindrance to their health,education, financial and social wellbeing. Cutting of trees has negative environmental effects -climate change, global warming, desertification and limited water resources. We therefore need to collectively address thischallenge. That is why I am truly looking forward to some of the interventions that women in the MRU will propose on this issue.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, as we continue to create an enabling environment for women's energy needs, we should explore all avenues to accessing all forms of energy including clean and renewable energy.Energy education must be enhanced to ensure that wise choices could be made on the different energy alternatives available to women.Women should be involved in all aspect of the energy discourse to ensure proper integration of their perspectives.
This is why we look forward to this gathering with great expectations. Our Governments in the MRU are awaiting the outcome of this conference to ensure that desired and appropriate strategies are adopted to fulfill women's longstanding aspirations for freedom from the burden of firewood, and from the hazards of too much smoke in their kitchens. The time has come to assert these aspirations. We must act now. promoting women's access should be prominent amongst this generation's contribution to the freedom and development of our nations.
Let me conclude by extending my profound thanks and appreciation to our development partners especially: African Development Bank, UNIDO,ECREEE,Global Environmental Facility, Africell and all those others who have contributed to the successful hosting of this conference. My special gratitude goes to the MRU Secretary-General and the Secretariat for the leadership in organizing this conference and for supporting the Government of Sierra Leone to be the proud host of the first women's access to energy conference globally. I count on your continuous support and commitment on this very important programme.
Once more on behalf of my Government and people of Sierra Leone, I welcome you all and I wish you all very fruitful and constructive deliberations. God Bless the MRU.