Her Excellency the First Lady, Madam Fatima Maada Bio has presented their second-year report on the "Hands Off Our Girls" campaign to His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio at State House.
She said she had heard her husband talk about how resourceful, committed and resilient Sierra Leonean women were even under the most difficult of circumstances, noting that when COVID-19 struck, she heard President Bio speak with great empathy and advocate for women in the informal economy.
"Mr President, you provided social safety net payments of Le1.3 million each to women so that they could continue doing their petty businesses and supporting their children. I have watched you provide life and health insurance for health workers who are predominantly women. I have seen you provide them with uniforms, hazard and risk allowances, diagnostic laboratories, training and more just so that those women can continue serving our great nation and its wonderful people.
"I have watched you provide a free national emergency medical service with hundreds of ambulances to serve pregnant women, women afflicted by illnesses, and other Sierra Leoneans. I have seen you ensure that free essential drugs reach the poorest Sierra Leonean women in the farthest locations in Falaba, Pujehun, Kailahun, and Kamakwie," she noted.
The First Lady also told the gathering that the declaration by the President of a national emergency on rape and repeal of the Sexual Offences Act 2012 had guaranteed women and girls a safer space in the country.
"The law has been amended to provide for tougher sentencing guidelines. With the support of the Honourable Chief Justice and the Judiciary, you pushed for the lawful abridging of court procedures and establishing the Sexual Offences Model Courts with dedicated judges to fast-track trial and sentencing for sexual offenders. Within a year, there is a higher rate of conviction and sentencing for sexual offenders," she catalogued.
Country Director for Save the Children, Heather Campbell, thanked President Julius Maada Bio for showing leadership in ensuring that the aim of the "Hands Off Our Girls" initiative was achieved, adding that they had been working in Sierra Leone since 1999 with a vision to make sure that every child survived, learned and was protected and was able to participate in matters concerning development.
"Having been part of this journey for a very long time, we have now seen changes that have occurred in polices and the movement to end Sexual Gender-Based Violence against girls in Sierra Leone. Her Excellency, we thank you for your commitment to making girls' lives safer, so that they can contribute to building their nation," she concluded.
A representative from UNFPA, Betty Alpha, said they recognised, respected and appreciated the effort of the First Lady and for her exemplary leadership to move forward with the campaign to ending violence against women and girls.
"We recognise the importance of the multi-sectoral approach by working with key partners and stakeholders to address the many elements that contribute to the current rate of child marriage, teenage pregnancy and other harmful practices which affect girls' chances to excel in Sierra Leone," she said.
President Julius Maada Bio started his remarks by thanking the First Lady for engaging allies in the judiciary, law enforcement, MDAs, civil society space, traditional and religious leaders, parents, ordinary citizens and children.
He observed that there was a strong and singular confluence of views among that huge and disparate group of allies - that the time to do something was now, adding that it was also a concrete reminder that collective and concerted action could bring in real and permanent change.
"Let me thank the Presidential Task Force on SGBV for their expert advice and support that has driven real and precipitous political and social action as well as permanent reform. HOOG is not limited to a region or ethnic group. It is about every Sierra Leonean girl who has dared to dream and hope that their future of equal opportunity, security, and justice is possible," he said.
He acknowledged that the judgement of women should be trusted in public service and trusted for advocating for their rights, speaking about their own bodies and about their hopes for a future of opportunity.
"Let me note here that the call for practical laws and for stronger and more sustainable institutions is in very much in place. I also accept that early marriage and teenage pregnancy have severe social, economic, and health impacts as highlighted by the First Lady - greater poverty, more health insecurity, more vulnerable to SGBV, a greater risk of fistula and other STIs and even HIV," he ended.
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