Embarks on nationwide “Hands off Our Girls” sensitization tour
Launch ‘Free Sanitary Pad ‘project for young girls in Sierra Leone
Advocates for the rights of the girl child at all platforms, be it at a UN event , a continental women dialogue or a community town hall meeting.
“If we keep all the African women in the kitchen, we will only have smoke in Africa , but if we allow our women to be educated and to be empowered ,then we will change the African story and have the world coming to us instead of us chasing the world”
Its apparently clear that she was not mincing words at an event during the U.N. General Assembly in 2019, where she made the above statement, because she has traveled the width and length of her home nation Sierra Leone sensitizing both the religious, cultural ,and social institution leaders, on the need for young girls to get educated first and come of age before getting married.
Her Excellency, Mrs. Fatima Maada Bio, as predicted by political analyst to wield an influence that will impact the lives of the youth of Sierra Leone positively, during the 2018 election that saw her husband Dr. Julius Maada Bio emerge victorious after a long fought poll, has not disappointed the pundits by taking the bull by the horns, via engaging one of the most critical social issues in her nation; child marriage and other gender based violence afflicting the African girl child in Sierra Leone.
Being a devout muslim herself, coming from a socio-religious background with a culture that most of its leaders supports the notion of young girls and even guys getting married as early as possible, to avoid a life of sexual promiscuity, and having also faced the challenge itself, as she was nearly married off at the age of fourteen had she not resisted the decision her parents wanted to make on her behalf, prepared her with the foreknowledge to tackle this issue.
Mrs. Maada Bio believes in consultation and engagement of the people and their community leaders in a discourse first, to help them understand the disadvantages and the economic and health risk in marrying off a girl before she comes of age.
She kicked off her revolution by approaching the paramount chiefs as custodians of culture, prompting the religious and social institutional leaders to come together to examine the issue, and collectively agree that it is an act that has lost its place at this time in history, thereby unifying their collective efforts to discourage it.
She has pleaded with the President to use his office of the executive to engage with the Judiciary, as to finding ways to expedite trials of sexual penetrated and gender based violence cases, while, further admonishing the girls to be content and emulate friends that are academic giants, as that’s the only way out in having the next president, ministers and other professionals from their generation.
This crucial stride that the first lady has just achieved, has proven to be decisive in the success of the Hands Off Our Girls project, rather than sitting in an office and making a law for the people against their old ways of living and self sustaining.
Without the people understanding why things need to change, her efforts would not be as effective as it is now that she has invited them to be part of the process of the new beginning, because now they won’t have issues abiding to a law that they were inclusive in its making.
It’s an unarguable fact, that the strain of taking up the nationwide tour of the Hands Off Our Girls Project will be judged as the essential factor that has ensured the success of the project so far.
Now the motor bike rider, the tailor, the herbalist, the palm wine tapper, teacher, police, pastors or Imam, market women and men in every locality and community in Sierra Leone has heard the new gospel, that no girl is to be married off without her coming of age, and should be given the right to choose when she wants to marry and who she wants to spend the rest of her life with.
Moreover any person found guilty of raping a child of 2 years, a girl of 16 or a woman over 50 years, or sexually abuse them in any guise or form in Sierra Leone, runs the risk of spending the rest of his life in prison. The act of husband manhandling wife or wife doing the same to their husband is to be taken seriously from now onwards and is liable to strict punishment behind bars.
The head of the Council of Paramount chiefs in Sierra Leone are elated of their inclusion in the whole process. As the local authorities and leaders closest to the people they have requested that president Julius Maada Bio to urge the Parliament and Judiciary to empower them at chiefdom levels with bye laws, to enable them play a more active role in combating this scourge and not as spectators as they are in full support of the First Lady’s call.
Mrs. Fatima Bio has succeeded in rallying the people of Sierra Leone together whether members of All Peoples Congress (APC) or Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) to a united front against child marriage and gender based violence. She is not slowing down in her pace to ensure a better life for the African girl child especially in Sierra Leone where she wields a great influence as the first lady and has the ear of the President.
Her Excellency recently used Maada and Fatima Bio Foundation with her husband to engineer ‘Free Sanitary Pads Initiative’ for school girls on the 14th of December this year.
The ‘Free Sanitary Pads Initiative’ is part of the 4th core proponent of the Hands Off Our Girls Campaign which is Promoting Sexual Reproductive Health Education, the rest in order of social importance to the project are
- Ending Child /Early Marriage
2.Sexual Based Violence, with emphasis on rape.
3. Child trafficking and prostitution
4. Promoting sexual reproductive health education
5. Preventing Mother to child transmission of HIV and AIDs
6. Sustainable and inclusive advocacy for cancer and Fistula.
Fatima Maada Bio has proven herself once again as an activist that believes in advancing the social rights of every individual and has always alleged that everyone deserves an enabling environment to be all they can be.
She is now well positioned to bring to fruition her long held desire to make a change in the world, a journey that she has been on since her teenage days and has used diverse means to spread her message to the people including producing movies that has strong positive social messages for the African audience as an actress and movie producer with Fabec Production.
As an ardent believer in the fact that art can be used for social transformation, she founded Fabec production based in UK and Africa about a decade ago, with which she won numerous individual awards for her accomplishment in the movie industry for impacting the society with the life changing narratives in her educative movies and projects.
While some women in positions of influence especially in the political sector where paramount decision that affects the common populace in the continent are made, resorts to promoting their economic interest, self idolization with the glitz and glamour that comes as special citizens without engaging in any field engagement to better the life of the masses they represent, wasting a crucial opportunity to turn around the socio-cultural and economic challenges women and youths are facing in the continent.
They being women themselves and in the know of the prevalent patriarchal imbalance in our culture and the tough economic situations in which many are existing under, should rather champion the cause and repeatedly bring to the front burner the discussion about changing the socio-cultural, political ,religious and economic marginalization of the African woman and girl child in the present century of Africa, but they are rather just enjoying the power play and affluence that comes with their position as political office holders.
Though some others who wish to make tremendous changes like Mrs. Aisha Buhari of Nigeria the most populous nation in Africa and 7th in the world, seems to be having her positions as first lady stifled with lack of adequate recognition or government support but she is yet sending out messages of encouragement to state governors wives in her nation to do more to curb maternal mortality.
More are leading at the side of their husbands and are lending their voice to the critical challenges women are facing in the continent. Mrs Rebecca Akufo Addo championed the re-modelling of Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in the Ashanti region to as well as leading in the call for donation of incubators to assist in her fight against the scourge of infant mortality in Ghana .
Mrs. Fatima Maada Bio who is apparently among the youngest first ladies in the continent at the age of 39 has proven that her generation can do better if given more opportunities, as they are more in tune with the modern ways and more prepared for the coming dynamic changes that awaits the world at the turn of this decade.
Her brilliance, sense of focus and relentless energy in ensuring her attainment of her goals and perfect completion of her vision has placed her at the forefront of the list of Africa’s best kept secrets.
Cookey Iwuoha is Project Coordinator All Africa Media Network, and Convener African Elders and Women Intercultural dialogue, He is a dialogue facilitator, passionate creative writer, poet and published author. He is the Publisher of Nigerian Eye Newspaper, a Young Africa Leadership Initiative (YALI) Alumni, and has participated in other capacity development programs like United Nation Foundation’s Virtual Reporting Fellowship, Centre for Human Rights Certificate on African Human Right System and Amnesty International’s Freedom of Expression Certificate program among others.