Fatima Bio takes ‘Hands off our girls’ campaign to the UN

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.


  1. “BBC’s Africa Eye released on Monday, today 07, October, 2019, a short documentary showing two professors at major West African universities sexually propositioning reporters who were posing as students, one was 17 years old, a teen. Female students have allegedly been sexually harassed by professors at some West African universities for decades. Part of a yearlong investigation into reports about grades being given in exchange for sex.

    The documentary team led by reporter Kiki Mordi secretly recorded Dr. Paul Kwame Butakor, lecturer at the University of Ghana, and Dr. Boniface Igbeneghu, who is both a senior lecturer at the University of Lagos as well as a pastor at Foursquare Gospel Church, putting pressure on the undercover reporter who pretended to be interested in admission. Academic institutions in West Africa have increasingly been facing allegations of sexual harassment by lecturers. This type of abuse is said to be endemic, but it’s almost never proven.

    After gathering dozens of testimonies, BBC Africa Eye sent undercover journalists posing as students inside the University of Lagos and the University of Ghana. Female reporters were sexually harassed, propositioned and put under pressure by senior lecturers at the institutions – all the while wearing secret cameras”. Additionally, the report went on to state “Reporter Kiki Mordi, who knows first-hand how devastating sexual harassment can be, reveals what happens behind closed doors at some of the region’s most prestigious universities”.

    Let’s take a scenario where one has a serious criminal charge that needs urgently attention and has to be defended against at the earliest possible time. You therefore hire the most qualified and affordable lawyer you could find, or so you thought. But it comes to the fore that the lawyer you have hired is not qualified since she or he became a lawyer not on merit of their stellar academic work, but by sex. You loose the case and you are sent to prison or jail. You are devastated, no doubt.

    Or a doctor who is attending to your painful ailment is a doctor by dint of sex trade. God knows the outcome of your hospital stay. We only hope that Mrs. Bio will continue her fight against sexual exploitation to encompass all areas of Sierra Leonean life; schools, colleges, universities, households, families, businesses, and the work place.

  2. I was really disappointed that the First Lady did not engage in any event concerning EMPOWERING our women and improving their LIVELIHOOD. Maybe, she did it somehow privately. I was hoping that she would make contact with organizations like MENTORS INTERNATIONAL in the US.

    If she had contacted MENTORS INTERNATIONAL or any other organisation dealing with EMPOWERING WOMEN and their LIVELIHOOD, she would have returned home with something for our women. It did no happen this time. No problem. MENTORS INTERNATIONAL are very helpful in supporting women, Madam First Lady. Nevertheless, I APPRECIATE, RESPECT and APPLAUD her engagements in the US. GOD BLESS the first family and wish them safe journey back home.

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