ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT
DR. ENERST BAI KOROMA
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY CELEBRATIONS
8TH MARCH 2014
Being in Pujehun has always been memorable for me, and this trip here today is very special because we are here to celebrate the resilience of the women of our beloved country. Sierra Leone is a better country today because the women of this nation are getting the recognition that they so greatly deserve; the women of our nation are standing up to be counted, and my Government is ever committed to moving forward with them into the middle income nation that we aspire to become in our Agenda for Prosperity.
Last year we demonstrated to the whole world that the gender agenda is gaining momentum by translating our intentions to concrete actions. For the first time in our history we have made gender equality and women’s empowerment a national priority pillar and the same time mainstream gender into all other pillars in the Agenda for Prosperity.
As we start the implementation of the Agenda for Prosperity, our initiative to make gender equality and women’s empowerment have been applauded by our development partners and internationally recognized especially at the regional level. As a result, Sierra Leone has been elected as Vice Chair of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa’s Bureau on the Committee for Women and Development. In recognition also of my unflinching commitment and support to improving the status of women, the UN ECA recently requested my assistance to support the integration of gender equality and women’s empowerment into the Common African Position for the Post 2015 Agenda. Our pillar 8 in the Agenda for Prosperity is now a best practice in the region. Furthermore, I have been informed that Sierra Leone will have a side event at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) next week to showcase pillar 8.
Madam Chair, the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day celebration is timely and appropriate “Inspiring Change for Women and Girls Participation, Advancement and Prosperity”. I will continue to inspire the women and girls of our beloved country to ensure their participation in national development. This is why for the first time in our history women hold very key positions in my own very office. No other President has given women more authority and access in the Presidency and other areas of governance. I reiterate my pledge here again today to continue to create conditions for women to get what is rightly theirs by virtue of their talents, their resilience and their greater love for family, community and country. My government is cognizance of the fact that when women thrive, all of society benefits, and succeeding generations are given a better start in life.
Madam Chair, I am not oblivious to the 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 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; and the violent have the full force of the state to contend with. We have laid the legal framework from our stance against gender-based violence by our enactment of robust legislation on Sexual Offences.
Madam Chairperson, as all the pillars in the Our Agenda for Prosperity show, our program for becoming a middle-income country is also an agenda for gender equity. The Agenda for Prosperity is an agenda for women’s empowerment, for promotion of employment for women, for the protection of vulnerable women, and for enhancing women’s access to finance, health, education and greater representation in all areas of Sierra Leonean life.
To consolidate all of these strategies identified in the pillars of the Agenda for Prosperity, my government deliberately created pillar 8 on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Some of the flagship projects include but not limited to the following: enactment of the minimum 30% quota for women to include the establishment of the National Women’s Commission; development of a National Gender Policy to include mainstreaming and advancement of women; and the coordination and implementation of the multi-sectoral strategy to reduce Teenage Pregnancy.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, in the area of education, Sierra Leone has made progress in achieving gender parity in primary education. We, however have a serious challenge in enrollment and completion rate 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 and this why we have considered paying school fees for girls through senior secondary in the Agenda for Prosperity. 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.
Madam Chair, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, In the State Opening of Parliament, I renewed my commitment to the Honourable Members of Parliament and the nation for the advancement of women and girls. As my Government continues to appoint more women to inspire the future generation of girls, more initiatives will be implemented in the Agenda for Prosperity to promote women’s economic empowerment. To this end, we have established the Women’s Empowerment Fund. I urge relevant government officials to immediately put strategies in place for the full operationalization of this fund.
Madam Chair, on International Women’s Day 2011, I made a commitment I am strongly passionate about- the Minimum 30% Quota and requested the female parliamentarians to lead the process for the enactment of the Law. I am personally eager to get this law enacted, but I need you the women to work together, agree on the contents of the Bill, ensuring inclusiveness during the process because this law will change the lives of us all.
Distinguished Guest, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs led a delegation to present and defend Sierra Leone’s sixth periodic report on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva, Switzerland on the 19th February 2014. I have been thoroughly briefed by the delegation and I am very pleased with the concluding comments from the CEDAW committee. The country was applauded for a very frank and constructive dialogue and the concluding remarks are a clear testament to that.
In concluding, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I would like to repeat to my countrymen that violence against women and girls is violence against the State! Men who violate women and girls especially sexual assault including rape will continue to face the toughest penalties. I have been informed that compromising of cases at the family level is a significant impediment to justice for our women and girls. I want to inform all those family members and authorities who compromise the rights of women and girls to know that they are violating our laws and we will come down hard on them. There must be no turning back in the promotion of the rights of the women of Sierra Leone.
Madam Chair, I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our wonderful hosts- the Women of Wanjama for the excellent Wanjama hospitality we have enjoyed. Collectively we should continue to keep the gender agenda very high. I am very committed to this agenda and I believe that the overwhelming majority of Sierra Leoneans are with us in this journey for gender equity and national prosperity. I wish you all a happy International Women’s Day celebrations. God bless Sierra Leone!