"When we exclude women, everyone pays the price".
When we exclude women, everyone pays the price. This is a new era of women’s empowerment protection and emancipation’- the voice of the Children’s Forum Network in Kailahun, Sierra Leone. These are the voices of children who spoke passionately during the district launch of the Hands off our Girls Campaign; a campaign initiated by H.E. the First Lady (FL) of Sierra Leone, Madam Fatima Maada Bio and officially launched by the President, H.E. Dr Julius Maada Bio
I was honoured to be part of the Kailahun regional launch of the national sensitising campaign, alongside Heather Campbell, Vishna Shah (Advocacy and Campaign Manager WCA Regional Office) and Moina Swaray (Acting Field Manager, Kailahun), supported officially by Save the Children, UNFPA and Africell. The campaign has been tirelessly advocating all key stakeholders on their role in protecting and educating the girl child addressing issues of rape, early marriage and teenage pregnancy and focusing on the importance of girls accessing formal education.
Key Government representatives were present including the Honourable Wuatta Songa, spoke on behalf of the parliamentarians, talking about how the parliament have been complimenting the work of the First Lady, by amending the 2012 sexual offences act (section 6) making it more effective in the fight against sexual violence. The Resident Minister of the East, Andrew Fatorma, urged men to distance themselves from girls who are supposed to be their daughters and the Minister of Social Welfare reinforced the commitment of the Ministry to empower women and protect the girl child.
Heather Campbell, the CD in Sierra Leone made an official statement. She talked about the importance of SC’s official partnership with the FL’s office and critical role that she FL has been able to play to bring together the key stakeholders; through the dedicated work of the FL, she has helped to make the President a committed champion to end violence against girls. This launch took place in the district where SC first began programming in 1999 and where we continue to work to ensure girls survive, learn and are protected. Heather spoke about the impact of child marriage and adolescent pregnancy on a girl’s life, including dropping out of school, health issues and her inability to support her community or to help build this nation’. ‘We all know that when we educate a girl, we educate a nation’ She urged the audience to give all children a chance to thrive.
The powerful key note speech was delivered by H.E First Lady of Sierra Leone. She talked about the important role everyone played in protecting the girl child and how today, Sierra Leone is a country with one of the highest rates of girls aged 15-19 dying during pregnancy and child birth. She spoke first to the bike rider themselves, who are often at the centre of sexual abuse, but also the teachers who often befriend young girls. She encouraged mothers and parents to play an important role in protecting their girls and law enforcement agencies to take sexual offences seriously. But the most important stakeholder in making the campaign a success were the paramount chief, who are the custodians of customs and traditions. So, as she closed the official launch, she officially handed the Hands off Our Girls Campaign to the Paramount Chiefs, now responsible for its implementation.
This campaign has played an important role in raising the profile of GBV in Sierra Leone and has begun to bring perpetrators to the spotlight. As girls become more aware of their rights and parents, community leaders, law enforcement agencies and other Govt reps, have become more aware of the responsibility they hold, to ensure girls thrive and reach their full potential.
Written by Ramatu Jalloh
Advocacy and Communication Director