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On International Women’s Day, President Julius Maada Bio says gender is firmly on the agenda of the government of Sierra Leone

Kambia Town, Kambia District, Sunday 8 March 2020 – His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio has told this year’s commemoration of International Women’s Day that gender is on the agenda of government because he believes Sierra Leone can only develop its human capital with women on board.

“Women, who constitute 51% of our population, are fully accounted for and included in our national development. We are also obligated, as a nation, to include, empower, and promote women to escape cycles of poverty and powerlessness. Only then can we be assured as a nation that every girl born in this our beloved nation can achieve her full potential and be all she can be,” he stated.

President Bio also pointed out that Cluster 6, in the country’s National Medium-Term Development Plan (2019-2023), recognised gender equality and women’s empowerment as critical to national development, noting that together with his wife, First Lady Madam Fatima Bio, the Government had worked seamlessly and tirelessly to address issues like early marriage, teenage pregnancy, menstruation, and reproductive health and education.

“My government acknowledges and will endeavour to enhance the immense contributions of our women to our national development – from healthcare (as doctors, midwives, nurses, and community healthcare workers); to education (as administrators, academic faculty, researchers, and teachers); to agriculture (as the key cultivators and producers of food); to business (as entrepreneurs and retail traders); to governance (as judges, ministers, parliamentarians, chiefs, technocrats, and senior administrators); to science and technology (as engineers, technical staff, and solar engineers); to civil society and journalism (where they keep women’s issues on the front burner), and even more.

“We followed my declaration of a National Emergency on Rape and Sexual Violence with a wholesome overhaul of the Sexual Offences Act to make it better for enforcement and tougher on perpetrators. We are resolved and determined as a Government to implement the provisions of all Gender-related Acts of Parliament, policies, and strategies to protect our women and girls.

“But we believe we must do more and we will do more. As we look at the data for Gender-based Violence, it would seem as if the impassioned appeals of our mothers, our sisters, our daughters and aunts, to respect their dignity and protect them from all forms of violence are not being heeded,” he said.

President Bio said his government recognised that gender-based violence was not always just physical, adding that the nation had witnessed alarming levels of rape, sexual defilement and battering of children, incest, and sexual harassment even in institutions of higher learning.

“We see girls forced into prostitution and also trafficked. At the cultural levels, we still see girls removed from school and forced into early marriages…Worse still, there are men and boys who fail to raise a voice in condemnation of those damnable acts. That barbarous culture of impunity must end. The wicked culture of silence and complicity that sustains it must end,” he assured.

In her opening address, Secretary-General of the Female Parliamentary Caucus, Honourable Rebecca Yei Kamara said that empowerment of women and girls was pivotal to development and crucial for Sierra Leone’s achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She also commended President Bio for declaring a state of emergency on rape and for the amendment of the Sexual Offences Act, saying that that would help to end the menace.

Minister of Gender, Manty Tarawalli, said that they were meeting on that particular day to sow the seed for male involvement in the development and growth of women in the country. She noted that their strategy was to get men as champions for women’s empowerment, adding that her ministry was setting up a toll-free number to allow people report cases of violence against women and girls across the country.

United Nations Resident Coordinator, Sunil Saigal, said that gender equality was not only an issue of women but an issue of both men and women because they must walk together. He said that gender equality was a precondition for empowerment and also commended the First Lady Madam Fatima Maada Bio for the “Hands Off Our Girls” initiative, which seeks to end early child marriage, rape, gender-based violence in Sierra Leone.

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