Lady Fatima Bio has hosted a successful “Hands Off Our Girls” campaign event on the margins of the 74th United Nations General Assembly to raise global awareness on reducing early marriage and rape in Africa.
Speaking on her motivation to embark on such a laudable campaign, Her Excellency First Lady Fatima Bio narrated an emotional personal story, recalling that, because of their culture, at age 12 a suitor had already been identified for her. She spoke of the ordeal that she went through in trying to challenge that culture, especially with her father. She also told the audience of how she escaped the early marriage by traveling to London.
From the story of her upbringing, Her Excellency First Lady Fatima Bio also said that she was inspired to embark on the advocacy campaign because of the passion of her husband to protect women and girls in Sierra Leone. She narrated that before her husband became President, he would complain to her about many incidents of rape and other forms of violence against girls and women in Sierra Leone.
“I have advocated for women and children since my teenage years. When I met my husband, I fell in love with him and his amazing vision for Sierra Leone. My work revolves around his vision, and I get 100% support from him. For sustainable development, everyone must be empowered, especially our women and children.
“The President’s flagship programme of Free Quality Education is a move from reliance on natural resources to the development of human capital. The human capital is our most important resource. The need to prepare and protect our people inspired me to come up with the ‘Hands Off Our Girls’ campaign that was launched by my husband, the President, in December 2018,” she said.
She also used the event to praise her colleague First Ladies who had continued to support the advocacy campaign through various initiatives in their respective countries.
Reiterating his commitment to the campaign, His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio said that women could make the world a better place, adding that: “We have wasted a lot of time in restricting the potentials of women and girls. I don’t need to support this campaign but to lead it”.
He also spoke about his motivation to declare a state of emergency on rape and sexual violence against women and girls and the promulgation of the new Sexual Offences Amendments Act of 2019. The President also spoke about using punitive measures to punish those who raped and committed sexual violence against women and girls whilst at the same time increase awareness across the country.
As a testament of global endorsement of Her Excellency Fatima Bio’s campaign, various statements were delivered by important global personalities such as Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation; Mr. Dereje Wordofa, UNFPA Deputy Executive Director; Rachel Yates, Executive Director – “Girls not Brides”; Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President African Development Bank; Her Excellency Mrs Clar M. Weah, First Lady of the Republic of Liberia and Her Excellency Mrs Emine Erdogan, First Lady of Turkey.
The declaration by the African First Ladies, to support the advocacy campaign on the reduction of early marriage and rape in Africa, was read by Her Excellency Jeannette Nyiramongi Kagame, First Lady of Rwanda. Many other First Ladies were also in attendance. The event was organised by the Office of the First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone and supported by UNFPA, Save the Children and AFRICELL.