Freetown City Council Auditorium, Friday 28 May 2021 – His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio has launched the Operational Plan for the ‘Hands Off Our Girls’ Campaign 2021–2023 at the commemoration of the International Menstrual Hygiene Day organised by the First Lady, Fatima Maada Bio.
Minister of Health and Sanitation, Dr Austin Demby, said that the commemoration of the day was poignant as there was growing attention to menstrual health as hygiene in the development and humanitarian community, adding that for billions of girls around the globe, menstruation remained a monthly reality that if not managed well could interrupt daily life, including schooling – increased absenteeism for girls.
“I am making this public pledge of a total commitment to the welfare of all our girls, the future doctors, nurses, lawyers, judges. We owe this to our girls,” he concluded.
United Nations Resident Coordinator, Dr Babatunde Ahonsi, said he was honoured to be at the gathering and extended thanks and appreciation to the Office of First Lady for the laudable initiative to officially launch the Operational Plan of the ‘Hands Off Our Girls’.
He thanked the government of Sierra Leone for its commitment to eradicating gender-based violence and other harmful practices against girls and women, adding that the plan would promote the right of women and help to advance the implementation of the Human Capital Development agenda of the government.
“The United Nations here in Sierra Leone appreciates Your Excellency the First Lady for your exemplary leadership to move forward the agenda of enhancing the life chances of women and girls,” he noted.
The First Lady, Fatima Maada Bio, said the celebration of the International Menstrual Hygiene Day was very important to her because she was very passionate about the wellbeing of women and girls in the country.
She further stated that in 2018 President Bio sent her to tour the country, engage with women and girls and identify some of their challenges, she said the tour gave birth to the ‘Hands Off Our Girls’, adding that her advocacy was to ensure that women and girls protected so that particularly those school-going girls would discover their true potentials, be educated and add value to nation-building.
“I am making all this progress because I have a supportive husband who believes and pushes me with the brightest smiles to do more for the safety of our children, regardless of the region, political belonging or tribe,” she stated.
She continued by saying that the International Menstrual Hygiene Day demonstrated that menstruation was not a choice, therefore every child deserved a free sanitary pad.
“These sanitary pads are high quality and meet all international standards,” she concluded.
In his statement, President Julius Maada Bio recalled that as they pondered on their New Direction manifesto, they had always asked a number of critical questions as to why was it that Marian, Tenneh, and Aisha who entered Class One with Joe, Michael, and Tommy could not be accounted for during the WASSCE examination for that cohort? He noted that the answers were grim.
“These stories were and have been replayed over and over all over Sierra Leone. Their stories are a giant scab on the conscience of those who can change their stories but have successively never done so. Those girls and their children constitute 52% of our country’s population but they are condemned through no fault of theirs to lives of penury, victimisation, and death.
“Over the last three years, we have taken bold risks. But we have been guided by the fervent belief that girls, like boys, must have an equal chance in life; that girls, like boys, must be empowered, invested in, and supported; and that girls, like boys, must be protected and respected,” he said.
The President also stated that that was why they had reversed the ban on pregnant girls in school, implemented a policy of radical inclusion in schools, and introduced the teaching of reproductive health adding that they had also spoken up about cervical cancer diagnosis and treatment personnel and facilities in the country.
“That is why gender inclusion is central to our Medium-Term National Development Plan and we have developed a Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment policy to guide our interventions in that regard,” he said.
He emphasised that more so, that was why their country’s indefatigable First Lady, Mrs. Fatima Maada Bio, had travelled to every corner of the nation and spoken from the heart about “Hands Off Our Girls!” to girls, women, men, boys, chiefs, and in communities.
“Her work speaks for itself in this Operational Plan 2021-2023. She has raised awareness and engaged state, non-state actors, the private sector, and institutions in advocacy and dialogue. Her work has brought renewed hope and fresh ideas in fighting discrimination and gender-based violence (GBV) by prioritising our interventions in relation to teenage pregnancy, and early and forced marriage; child prostitution, forced labour, and trafficking; women’s empowerment; maternal mortality; and sustainable childhood development” among others,” he concluded.
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