By Foday Moriba Conteh
Sierra Leone kicked off 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) with an event hosted by the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs (MGCA), in collaboration with the Office of the First Lady on Saturday, November 25th, 2023.
The launch, held at the Freetown City Council Hall, marked the beginning of a global movement aimed at combating violence against women and girls under the theme: “Unite! Invest to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls.
The launch brought together pupils and esteemed partners including UNFPA, Irish Aid, UNICEF, UNAIDS, UN Women and Care Sierra Leone etc.
In her keynote address and officially launching the 16 Days of Activism Against GBV, the First Lady, Dr. Fatima Bio articulated that the day is special, that the future is bright for Sierra Leonean women, acclaimed the MGCA for its commitment and dedication to the campaign, that this year the 16 days of activism started earlier and that she is fascinated by this year’s theme.
She also underscored that if all are in the campaign together the world would listen and catalogued some of the progress made so far including sweeping reforms, the Hands Off Our Girls Campaign, Government’s declaration of the State of Emergency on rape, that penalties for perpetrators have been reviewed, that the Ministry of GCA has been separated from Social Welfare, Government’s flagship project, the Free Quality Education, that infant and maternal mortality has reduced by 60%, that the Sexual Offences Act has been reviewed, that girls now top public examinations, the free distribution of sanitary pads and scholarships to girls offering the sciences and engineering.
The First Lady continued that other successes are the appointments of more female Ministers and election of female Members of Parliament observing that although women are considered weak and inferior they shall overcome and appealed to all to adopt new strategies to build on the successes made over the years.
She also talked about the launch of the Real Men Champions, called on campaigners not to operate in silos but to build and strengthen relationships, both locally and internationally as well as do solid investments to protect women and girls not only in Sierra Leone but worldwide.
Dr. Aisha Fofanah-Ibrahim also commended the First Lady for her invaluable support to the campaign, observed that it is important to acknowledge her work, that we must not be complacent, hold the State accountable and take a holistic approach on the issues.
In her statement, the Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs, Dr. Isata Mahoi revealed that the event is to launch the public campaign to kick-start the 16 Days of Activism against GBV, noted that this year’s campaign has a global theme, that GBV is preventable, disclosed that Sierra Leone has taken steps to address the issue and signed several international treaties and domesticated others citing achievements like the Sexual Offences Model Court, the One Stop Center all of which she noted are significant milestones to end violence against women and children.
She further underscored that GBV is unacceptable assuring that campaigners can end it if they forget about the politics and work together, reiterating that concrete steps must be taken to protect survivors and disclosed that this year the campaign would be taken to communities, the ‘Sowies’ and traditional leaders and commended development partners and the First Lady for their invaluable support, appealed to all to come onboard the campaign, strengthen preventive measures and be catalysts for change.
In his PowerPoint presentation on Situational Context of GBV, Progress and Challenges, Charles Vandy, Deputy Chief Director, MGCA, highlighted some of their achievements as the enactment of the 2020 Sexual Offences Act, development of the Male Involvement Strategy, the GBV Integrated Management System but observed that domestic violence is on the increase while sexual offenses are decreasing.
He added that in 2019 they recorded one of the highest cases of GBV and appealed to all to put premium on pair sex intimating that parents are no longer taking care of their children.
Charles Vandy also called for sustained practical will and commitment, that survivors have confidence in the system due to increase in reported cases, that there has been increase in the conviction rate and highlighted some of their challenges as the absence of a forensic laboratory, strong specific technical support, fragmented data from partners, inadequate medical supplies, lack of logistics and coordination of comprehensive services on GBV.
The Minister of Sports, Augusta James-Taimeh revealed that there is more violence in sports than elsewhere due to the fact that there are few women in sports, that violence against women and girls cannot be overestimated, that violence is psychological, economic and physical and commended the President and First Lady for their support asserting that violence is not only at home but in all spheres of life.
Other dignitaries present included Ministers of Government, Hon. Members of Parliament, Ambassador of Ireland, the European Head of Delegation, the UN Resident Coordinator, Representatives of the Community of Practice Women of Sierra Leone, and Members of the Fourth Estate.
It must be noted that the launch of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence served as a powerful platform for Her Excellency Dr. Fatima Maada Bio and the Ministry of Gender and Children Affairs to unite their voices in the pursuit of a safer, more equitable society for women and girls in Sierra Leone. The theme: “Unite! Invest to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls” resonated as a clarion call for collective action and a brighter future for all.