9 March 2017

Sierra Leone: 'Our Quest for Gender Equality Is Unstoppable' - President Koroma

President Dr Ernest Bai Koroma accompanied by his amiable wife, First Lady Mrs. Sia Nyama Koroma, the Vice President Dr Victor Bockarie Foh and wife, Mrs. Junta Foh, joined the women and girls of Sierra Leone in celebrating International Women's Day at the Dr Ernest Bai Koroma 2011 Mini Stadium at Newton, Western Rural District on Wednesday March 8, 2017.

Delivering the keynote address in celebration of the achievements of 10 years of women's empowerment (2007-2017), President Dr Ernest Bai Koroma unequivocally said that the quest for women's empowerment and gender equality in Sierra Leone is unstoppable. He encouraged the women and girls of Sierra Leone to celebrate the gains made so far considering the fact that "where we were and where we are today in terms of women's empowerment" are poles apart. He however acknowledged the challenges the country is confronted with in addressing women's empowerment issues, but maintained that the country has indeed come a long way.

With all modesty, the president said he has played a leading role in promoting women's empowerment and gender parity since he assumed office 10 years ago, referencing his government's clear plans and efforts to maintain the 30% quota of women's inclusion and participation in governance, in the field of education, science, health, business among others. President Koroma also noted that he is second to none when it comes to promoting women's empowerment and gender parity, and that nobody including his predecessors (both constitutional and unconstitutional governments) has come close to him on women's empowerment issues.

President Koroma expressed delight over the position paper presented to him and noted the concerns and recommendations therein, and reaffirmed his Government's and party's commitment to women's empowerment and gender equality, saying that there should be no going back. He said his government is very much mindful of the fact that women are the bedrock of any country's development, hoping that by 2030, Sierra Leone shall have achieved what is entailed in the 50/50 programme.

The president also used the opportunity to encourage women to register in their numbers and vote for the right people. He allayed the fears of the people who expressed concern over who will succeed him after he shall have left office in 2018. He entreated his anxious but visibly jubilant crowd of women to stay calm saying, that members of the All People's Congress (APC) are of the same family. "Orinch nor dae bear lem," he said; a parable that threw the mammoth crowd into hilarious jubilation.

President Koroma thanked the Social Welfare Ministry and development partners for working out a national theme for this year's celebration thus; "Sustaining the Increase in the Inclusive Participation of Women to Enhance Chances of Socio-Economic Gender Parity by 2030". He described the theme as apt and appropriate for the celebration. The global theme of this year's celebration focuses on "Women in the Changing World of Work and it aspires to a Planet of 50:50 by 2030".

In her remarks as Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, Dr Sylvia Blyden highlighted the achievements of President Koroma towards the advancement of women in various sectors of the country. She noted that the president's legacy cannot be matched with any other President and Head of State since Sierra Leone attained independence in 1961. "Your contribution to the promotion and protection of women and girl's rights will continue to stand the test of time even after your retirement," Dr Blyden said, and pointed out that it was necessary to also celebrate the achievements of President Koroma towards the advancement of women.

Chairperson of the occasion, Dr Fatu Taqi, who also doubles as National President for the 50/50 Group, described the IWD as a day of reflection and assessment from where women were placed in society and where they are at the moment. She spoke of the 50/50 world target by 2030 and warned against domestic violence. She called on government to fully implement international protocols and treaties already signed on women's empowerment and gender parity. Dr Taqi commended President Koroma for his efforts in advancing the cause of women, adding that a lot has been achieved since 2007.

Delivering a message from the United Nations Secretary-General, Dr Mary Okumu said "gender equality is central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the global plan agreed by leaders of all countries to meet the challenges we face. Sustainable Development Goal 5 calls specifically for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, and this is central to the achievement of all the 17 SDGs."

In her presentation of the position paper on behalf of the women of Sierra Leone, Mrs. Maude Peacock, President of the Women's Forum, said that the paper reflects the views and aspirations of the women of Sierra Leone. According to Mrs. Peacock, the national theme for this year's IWD "Sustaining the Increase in Inclusive Participation of Women to Enhance Chances of Socio-Economic Gender Parity by 2030" is an acknowledgement of progress made under the leadership of President Koroma to promote inclusive participation of women especially in the public domain. "It is on record that under your astute leadership we have made tremendous progress in addressing social, economic and political challenges that underpins women's socio-economic empowerment." She however noted that the gains made need to be sustained to enhance chances of socio-economic gender equality by 2030, which is the global call.

On behalf of the women and girls of Sierra Leone, the president of the Children's Forum Network (CFN), Paulina Bangura and the president of the Kenema District Children Network Forum, Ramatulai Kamara presented a plaque to President Koroma as a symbol of appreciation for his transformational empowerment of women and girls.

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