Sierra Leone’s internationally acclaimed Iron Lady Zainab Hawa Bangura has once again brought pride to her countrymen after being honoured with a Honorary Doctorate Degree by one of the United Kingdom’s most prestigious universities – Oxford Brookes University, for her contribution towards upholding human rights, and advancing women’s empowerment.
ZAINAB BANGURA RECEIVING THE AWARD
In her address, Bangura who is the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said: “I would like to convey my warm and sincere gratitude to the University for conferring upon me an honoris causa Doctoral degree in recognition of my contribution to the cause of upholding human rights, and advancing women’s empowerment, even in the war-torn corners of our world.”
Bangura who dedicated her honour to her late mother, whom she described as an ‘extraordinary woman’, brought the jam-packed hall to a complete decorum while narrating her rise to stardom. It was quite an emotional speech.
A PROUD ZAINAB AFTER THE AWARD
Hear her: “I wish to dedicate this honor to my late mother, Sama Kanu, an extraordinary rural woman who, even though unlettered, devoted her time and sacrificed her meagre savings, to the last cent, to send her only daughter to school. This was at a time when girls my age, in my home country of Sierra Leone, were more likely to be getting groomed for early marriage, than to be sitting at a desk in school with their male peers.”
She said despite her mother’s limited knowledge of the world beyond her village, she valued education and its empowering and transformative capacity.
“She taught me that education is a “golden key” that not only unlocks doors, but turns walls into windows of opportunity, barriers into bridges, and glass ceilings into clear blue skies. My mother would be overwhelmed and overjoyed to be here with me today, so let me extend this dedication to all the mothers in attendance: you are the unsung heroes of the student experience.”
ZAINAB AND AMBASSADOR TURAY
The United Nations Special Representative said the lessons from her mother have been a source of inspiration and strength in dedicating her life to advocacy on behalf of the most marginalized and vulnerable in society.
SIERRA LEONEANS AT THE PROGRAM
She said against the enormous odds of the time and place into which she was born, she had the chance to go to school, to attend university and to represent the Government of Sierra Leone as Minister of Health and as Foreign Minister.
She said in her current role as Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict at the level of Under Secretary General, she works every day to amplify the voices of women on an issue that has been called “history’s greatest silence” and the “world’s least condemned war crime.”
She said experience has shown her that education is both a critical investment and the single most important driver in building a prosperous, healthy and equitable society, adding that studies have revealed that no country has ever achieved sustainable economic growth without attaining a literacy rate of at least 45%.
Giving a brief statistics on education, the former Sierra Leonean Foreign Minister and Minister of Health respectively called on her audience to remember that there is a world out there in which some 774 million young people cannot read and write; 53 percent of the children who drop out of school globally are girls.
She also called on her audience to spare a thought for girls like Malala Yousafzai who have been gunned down merely for going to school; for the three million Syrian children who have no schools to go to; and the hundreds of Nigerian girls abducted from their classrooms with impunity.
“Let us remember that two-thirds of the illiterate people in this world are women – like the women in my own family, just a generation ago,” according to the United Nations strongwoman.
Zainab Hawa Bangura has had a successful career both locally and internationally having served as Sierra Leone’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and later as Minister of Health in the President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma administration – before resigning to secure her current job.
She was one of the key players who fought vigorously to bring democracy in Sierra Leone as head of the Sierra Leonean Civil Society NGO Campaign for Good Governance as well as many other human and civil rights organisations both locally and internationally.
Zainab remains one of Sierra Leone’s most respectable women and according to Sierra Leone’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, His Excellency Edward Mohamed Turay, who accompanied her to Oxford, “she is a pride to Sierra Leone and her people.”
By Sorie Sudan Sesay, London