State House, Freetown, Thursday 27 May 2021 - The African Ministers' Council on Water, AMCOW, has recognised Sierra Leone's First Lady, Her Excellency Fatima Maada Bio, as African Champion of Sanitation and Hygiene, the third prominent person to be honoured after Rwanda's President Paul Kagame and former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
The championship honour is in recognition of her tireless efforts in ensuring that women and girls have access to a clean and safe environment, citing her landmark 'Hand's Off Our Girls' campaign and programmes, which has also commenced a nationwide distribution of free sanitary pads to school-going children.
AMCOW was formed in 2002 in Abuja, Nigeria, primarily to promote cooperation, security, social and economic development and poverty eradication among member states through the effective management of the continent's water resources and provision of water supply.
Acting Executive Secretary of AMCOW, Thomas Banda, extended warm fraternal greetings from the secretariat and noted that the status of Africa in terms of water and sanitation was not anything good to write home about. He added that access to adequate water and safe sanitation and hygiene services was still a challenge to many of the over 400 million people of the African continent.
"It is in this regard that AMCOW Secretariat initiated efforts to identify, engage and nominate a high-level champion for sanitation and hygiene. The search kept narrowing down until we landed at the profile of Her Excellency, the First Lady of Sierra Leone," he stated.
Mr Banda said they looked forward to working with Madam Fatima Bio to strengthen their advocacy efforts and to ensure that everyone around the continent had access to safely managed sanitation and hygiene, including menstrual health and hygiene services, and towards ending open defecation in Africa.
In her brief acceptance speech, the First Lady said she was positively overwhelmed by the African Union recognition of her work, which she was doing very passionately. She thanked President Bio for not only being her husband but for also being her adviser, mentor and for believing in her as a woman.
"I want to say thank you, Your Excellency, for your support. I will succeed only if you continue to give me that support. For Africa to see me and the work I am doing to serve humanity, it is because of the free space you have given me to work," she noted.
Mrs. Bio further said that hygiene and satiation together remained a serious challenge and one she said needed attention. She, therefore, promised to would work with all stakeholders to not only see Sierra Leone become a cleaner and hygienic country, but to also push for a cleaner Africa as a whole.
"Thank you very much African Ministers' Council on Water for this recognition. Thank you, my team, from the Office of the First Lady, for your support. It is because of you that I have the zeal and oxygen to do more work that has led to this achievement," she concluded.
President Bio described the event as particularly significant because it was a ceremony at which a very passionate Sierra Leonean, who had provided leadership for causes that had changed attitudes and life outcomes, was being recognised.
"We are especially proud of her extensive work throughout Sierra Leone with 'Hands Off Our Girls.' Madam First Lady, as a result of your fervent advocacy for gender empowerment and for the protection of women against sexual and gender-based violence, more girls are now safer in their communities and schools.
"More girls persist in school and are not forced into early marriages; more girls have access to menstrual hygiene products; and there is greater recognition of the immense potential of girls in fostering sustainable and inclusive development in Sierra Leone.
"Equality, equity, access, and empowerment are suddenly not incidental to how girls see themselves and believe in themselves in Sierra Leone. Congratulations again, Mrs Fatima Maada Bio, Sierra Leone is very proud of this continental recognition of your selfless and committed leadership. Thank you," he concluded.