Since assuming office in 2018, Her Excellency Dr. Fatima Maada Bio has embarked on a transformative journey to empower girls and women in Sierra Leone, instilling in them a sense of self-worth, self-care, and the courage to stand against abuse, confident in the protective embrace of the legal system.
At the heart of Dr. Fatima Maada Bio’s efforts lies the “Hands Off Our Girls” campaign, launched in December 2018 with the overarching mission to eradicate pervasive issues such as child marriage, gender-based violence and rape. Simultaneously, the campaign aims to raise awareness, shape policies, and ensure accessible reproductive healthcare and treatment for conditions like cancer and fistula.
Dr. Fatima Maada Bio’s personal investment in the campaign is palpable. She has tirelessly traveled across the nation, engaging with Paramount Chiefs, Imams, Pastors, and Tribal Leaders. These interactions serve to educate the public on the profound impact of issues affecting girls, transforming the campaign into a deeply human and empathetic endeavor.
The success of Dr. Fatima Maada Bio’s advocacy is manifested in the remarkable improvement in the quality of life for young girls and women in Sierra Leone. Empowered to bravely speak out against abuse, reports of rape and gender-based violence to the police department have significantly increased. The campaign has given a voice to women and girls, fostering a climate where they feel heard and supported when reporting sexual predators and abusers in their homes and communities.
Dr. Fatima Maada Bio’s unwavering commitment has garnered international acclaim. Both the African Union and the United Nations have recognized her as a champion of girls’ and women’s empowerment, not only in Sierra Leone but also in neighboring African nations.
CAMPAIGN ACHIEVEMENTS: A TESTAMENT OF IMPACT:
From its inception to the present, the Hands Off Our Girls campaign has achieved remarkable milestones:
- 1. Enhanced Legal Framework: The Sexual Offences Act underwent a pivotal update in September 2019, mandating a minimum imprisonment of 15 years for a rape conviction, a substantial increase from the previous 2-year maximum sentence. Additionally, convictions for child rape were elevated to life imprisonment from a previous 2-year maximum sentence.
- 2. Expedited Justice: The introduction of a Fast-Track Special Court for rape cases in 2020 drastically reduced case turnaround time, from a two-year wait to within a week.
- 3. Empowering Medical Expertise: The campaign facilitated the training of 40 medical doctors to handle rape cases and provide expert testimony in court, a remarkable increase from just one doctor in the entire country.
- 4. Addressing Period Poverty: Free sanitary pads were distributed to girls attending government-assisted schools in Sierra Leone, addressing a crucial need and enabling them to pursue education without interruption during their monthly periods.
5. Ongoing Initiatives: Paving the Way for a Brighter Future
The Hands Off Our Girls campaign continues its impactful work with ongoing initiatives:
- 6. A Bastion of Healthcare: The construction of a 600-bed hospital is well underway, currently at 85% completion, poised to provide comprehensive healthcare support.
- 7. A Haven for Healing and Rehabilitation: A seven-building facility is in progress, designed to shelter survivors of rape and gender-based violence. This facility will offer a range of services, including counseling, psychosocial support, medical treatment, and a family support unit. The project stands at 50% completion, a testament to the campaign’s dedication to healing and empowerment. A Legacy of Hope and Transformation.
Through her unwavering commitment to empowering girls and women, First Lady Dr. Fatima Maada Bio has transformed the landscape of Sierra Leone. The “Hands Off Our Girls” campaign stands as a testament to her vision and leadership, fostering a society where girls and women can thrive, free from fear, and empowered to reach their full potential.
Strategic Communications Division,
Office of The First Lady,
Republic of Sierra Leone.