Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 September 2019:
On Wednesday, 25 September 2019, Mrs. Fatima Bio hosted a “Hands Off Our Girls” campaign event on the margins of the 74th United Nations General Assembly, aimed at raising global awareness on the need to reduce early marriage and rape in Africa.
Speaking about her motivation for embarking on such a laudable campaign, Mrs Fatima Bio narrated an emotional and personal story about her culture. She said that as early as age 12, her family had found a man to marry her.
She spoke of the ordeal that she went through in trying to challenge that decision and the culture that fuels it, especially with her father. She said her only escape route from early marriage was to leave the country, which she did by travelling to London.
Fatima Bio said she is inspired to campaign for child rights because of her husband – the president’s passion in protecting women and girls in Sierra Leone.
Before her husband became President, she said, he would discuss the many troubling incidents of rape and other forms of violence against girls and women in Sierra Leone, with her.
“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 are supporting the advocacy campaign through various initiatives in their respective countries.
Reiterating his commitment to the campaign, President 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 lead this campaign but to support it”.
He also spoke about his motivation for declaring 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. He said he has introduced strong measures to punish those who rape and commit sexual violence against women and girls.
Various speakers from across the world endorsed Mrs Bio’s campaign, including: 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 of the African Development Bank; Mrs Clar M. Weah, First Lady of the Republic of Liberia; and 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 Mrs Jeannette Nyiramongi Kagame, First Lady of Rwanda.
Many other First Ladies also attended the event which was organised by the Office of the First Lady of Sierra Leone, supported by UNFPA, Save the Children and AFRICELL.