In his relentless determination to continue giving women a big lift in national affairs in Sierra Leone, President Ernest Bai Koroma has hinted that women will enjoy a pride of place in his Agenda For Prosperity. President Koroma gave the assurance in a powerful statement last Saturday during the program marking International Women’s Day in Sierra Leone . READ THE FULL STATEMENT :
Madam Chairperson, My Lady the Chief Justice, Ministers of Government, Honourable Members of Parliament, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Our Development Partners, Our Special Guests, Traditional Leaders, Women of Sierra Leone, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen I am honoured to speak at this year’s International Women’s Day celebrations. Let me commence my address by extending my sincere gratitude to the women of Sierra Leone for the confidence bestowed upon me by re-electing me as President of the Republic of Sierra Leone. In the recently concluded elections, more women registered and voted and that resulted to my re-election.
PRESIDENT KOROMA AND FIRST LADY MRS. SIA NYAMA KOROMA DURING THE PROGRAM
Owing to the importance of the role of women in our society, I approved the request for a Public Holiday from the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs on behalf of the Women and Girls of Sierra Leone. International Women’s Day, March 8th is henceforth declared Public Holiday. Women are on the march, the whole country is on the march to gender equity, there shall be no retreat. As stated in this year’s motto for the International Women’s Day, The Gender Agenda is Gaining Momentum.
There are still remaining challenges, but nothing can stop a determined nation from asserting the better values of progress, justice and gender equity. My government is committed to these better values, and we have visibly demonstrated this commitment. From our appointments into the most senior positions in many institutions to the free health care for pregnant and lactating mothers, we have shown that this government wants men and women to work side by side to transform this nation. From our enactment of legislation to protect women’s inheritance rights to statutes that specifically criminalize violence against women, we have sent out a clear message that discrimination against women has no place in Sierra Leone; violence against women is violence against the state. So let all be aware, discrimination and violence against women are an affront to the founding values of our nation: unity, freedom and justice. Sierra Leonean women are on the move, there is no stopping this.
Today, a Sierra Leonean woman, Madam Zainab Bangura is the world’s point person for dealing with matters relating to violence against women in conflict situations. Sierra Leonean women stood up against violence during the war in Sierra Leone, Sierra Leonean women stood up for democracy, Sierra Leonean women, from traders to the professors, from the market women to the doctors, nurses, civil servants, teachers are the mainstay of our survival as a nation.
We salute the women of Sierra Leone for their resilience, their strength of character, and their progressive actions for the transformation of this land that we love. With women, we will do more; we are committed to doing more. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs has developed and launched the National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence; National Referral Protocol on Gender-Based Violence in a bid to curb the menace of gender-based violence in the country. In 2010 I launched two documents – National Gender Strategic Plan and the Sierra Leone National Action Plan on United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820. Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, definitely, the Gender Agenda is Gaining Momentum”. As a testament to my government’s commitment to the advancement of women and girls, gender equality and women’s empowerment is a priority pillar in the Agenda for Prosperity. We will do more.
My Agenda for Prosperity will be gender responsive ensuring that gender is mainstreamed across all the other pillars. I will do more in the Agenda for Prosperity for women and girls. But, I need men and women to support me in doing more to achieve the goals in this agenda. In the area of education, Sierra Leone has made progress in achieving gender parity in primary education, but I know we have serious challenges in enrollment and completion rates for girls in Senior Secondary Schools. We have encouraged girls to pursue higher education by awarding scholarships to female students studying science at tertiary level, but we still have to do more. We should not forget to encourage women in tertiary institutions to go into technical and vocational fields that are of great demand in the emerging fields including mining and energy sectors.
The issue of teenage pregnancy is impeding the success of our girls’ education as we continue to experience massive dropout rates for girls between Junior and Senior Secondary School. Vigilance against perpetrators of this assault against this progress of women is a price worth paying for the just advancement of our nation; and family planning is crucial to our national development agenda. I made a commitment to women during the State Opening of the First Session of the Fourth Parliament that as a government we will deliver more initiatives to narrow the gender inequality gap and hence facilitate growth. We will also scale up our interventions to facilitate the participation of women in the economy and politics.
In the Agenda for Prosperity, we will establish strong funding mechanisms to promote women’s political participation, scholarships for deserving women and girls in education, and promoting female entrepreneurship for sustainable economic growth. We will establish the National Women’s Commission as an Independent Body to primarily advocate for the advancement of women and girls and we will enact the legislation on the 30% quota for women in politics, and I am sure it will be pretty soon. This is a continuation of our commitments and I will deliver before the end of my tenure in 2017. I will do more, but collectively we can do more and achieve more for the women and girls of Sierra Leone.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, globally, no country will attain sustainable economic growth without the full participation of women in governance and decision-making. To ensure that I am kept abreast with current issues affecting women and girls, I have appointed a Gender and Women’s Adviser in my Office to Advise the Presidency and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs on gender related issues. I have also recently appointed in addition to the capable female Ministers, appointed a Special Executive Assistant and a female Minister of State in the Office of the Vice President who is no less a person, but the distinguished Chairperson of this occasion. All of these positions have never been made by any other democratically elected Government in Sierra Leone.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I know that Gender equality is not a welfare issue, it is a developmental issue so I have listened attentively to the presentations made by women on the four thematic areas: Governance; Health and HIV/AIDS; Energy; and Enterprise Development. I am sure those of you who are privy to the manifesto of my Government and the current draft of the Agenda for Prosperity will attest to the fact that a good number of these issues raised are captured in the Agenda for Prosperity document. I want to assure you that the resolutions and proposals will be addressed. In the area of Energy, I recently approved the hosting of the Manor River Union Women’s Access to Energy Conference in Sierra Leone. This will be the first conference of its kind in the Region specifically focusing on women’s perspectives to inform gender sensitive regional and national energy policies and implementation strategies. We also have the Solar Training College which is managed by the Barefoot Women Solar Engineers with no formal education, but empowered today to deliver training in solar technology to communities and academics from higher education institutions.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to welcome in our country, the high level delegation led by Mrs. Cherie Blair and Dr. Kandeh Yumkella. Our continued partnership is crucial for the promotion and sustainability of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Sierra Leone. Yesterday, Mrs. Cherie Blair officially launched the Organization of Women’s Network for Entrepreneurs (OWNERS) supported by her Foundation in close collaboration with African Foundation for Development (AFFORD) a national Non-Governmental Organization. As a Government, we welcome these partnerships in promoting women’s participation in economic development. I would like to personally extend my appreciation to the high level delegation for leaving your busy schedules to spend this day with us and our women and girls in particular. Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I will conclude by reaffirming my Government’s commitment to Gender Equality by entreating the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs to ensure the full implementation of both national and international obligations including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), AU Heads of State Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa and the AU Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa among others.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I have accorded the women and girls of Sierra Leone a public holiday to reflect on our collective progress and roadmap to prosperity. I am confident that these strides will continue to be emulated by other countries in promoting women and girls’ rights. I will do more, my Government will do more, the private sector will do more, men and boys will do more, but I know that the women and girls will do even more to keep the momentum for the gender agenda in Sierra Leone.
On behalf of the Government and people of Sierra Leone I wish you a happy International Women’s Day celebrations. God Bless Sierra Leone.