By Mohamed Lamin Massaquoi & Cyril Barnes

The New Year is finally here and there could be no better way of starting it off than wishing you–our esteemed readers–a Bright and Prosperous 2023. May we also take a moment to recollect the tremendous gains made by the New Direction administration in the just concluded year, 2022, notwithstanding the global economic challenges. Those gains, coupled with the strong leadership and determination of His Excellency President Dr. Julius Maada Bio, provide strong assurance that the year 2023 will present even better opportunities for our beloved nation.

In this first edition of 2023, we assess the critical role of Sierra Leone’s First Lady, Her Excellency Madam Fatima Maada Bio in pursuit of fulfilling the developmental needs and aspirations of her people, examining her contributions locally and internationally in light of reforms, developmental strides as well as her meteoric rise to global stardom, globally positioning the land that we all love—Sierra Leone. We subsume her achievements in the Bio’s Development Diary, measuring her invaluable contributions to national development in less than five years.

Hands-Off-Our-Girls Campaign:

Madam Fatima Bio’s global recognition was born out of her “Hands-Off-Our-Girls” campaign, an initiative that was launched to combat the exponential rise in Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, raise public awareness and eradicate the harmful practices experienced by women and girls in Sierra Leone. To guarantee its efficacy, Her Excellency succeeded in wooing support across the country by involving traditional and religious leaders. Today, with heightened awareness, coupled with the strong legal framework to punish perpetrators, victims feel more confident than ever before to report whenever they feel abused, harassed or threatened.

In her words: “We launched the Hands-Off-Our Girls campaign to break society’s stereotypical barriers and posture especially in introducing the girl child to early marriage and pregnancy as well as branding them as objects of pleasure, raising awareness on the dangers of SGBV, developing policies to address the problems and give them a voice to speak about societal ills and empower them to contribute to nation building.”

Accordingly, the campaign has inspired girls to acquire education unhindered, thereby complementing the Free Quality Education project launched by His Excellency Dr. Julius Maada Bio. The fact that Her Excellency has been able to galvanize support across different shades of the divide is a testament to the success of the “Hands-Off-Our-Girls” campaign.

34 Military Hospital Expansion Project:

Amidst the slew of domestic achievements of Madam First Lady, the construction of a state-of-the-art medical city at the 34 Military Hospital stands tower-high. The project will house 500 beds, a pediatric centre, a nursing and midwifery school, administrative office with improved medical facilities that will increase access to education and maternal and child healthcare. After completion, the facility would tackle myriads of healthcare issues affecting Sierra Leoneans, particularly women and girls. The hospital project, being a novelty for a sitting First Lady of Sierra Leone, demonstrates President Julius Maada Bio and Madam Fatima Bio’s love, compassion and willingness to serve the people.

Free Sanitary Pad Project:

In line with promoting a quality health system for women and girls, Madam Fatima Bio launched the free sanitary pad project to raze the societal stigma associated with menstruation. Research shows that annually, girls lose a considerable number of days from school during menstrual periods as opposed to their male counterparts. Her Excellency’s campaign has not only accelerated the level of awareness on menstruation, but more importantly, the distribution of free sanitary pads has enabled girls to hygienically be in school even during their cycles. Since its launch in 2022, the project has benefitted thousands of school-going girls and has been applauded across the country.

A Rise to International Recognition:

In November 2022, the world stood still to celebrate the achievements of Her Excellency Madam Fatima Bio, First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone—an outstanding personality who, in spite of the odds, has worked relentlessly to empower women and girls in Sierra Leone and the rest of the world. As glaring as her work beams, drafters of history would reckon that once upon a time Sierra Leone’s First Lady responded to the developmental needs of her people and left an enduring legacy etched on the anvil of this male-dominated society.

In taking her women’s advocacy drive global, Madam Fatima Bio successfully championed the adoption of a special day in the United Nations calendar to recognize victims of sexual and other forms of gender-based violence. Her proposal was unanimously adopted by the United Nations with support from reputable institutions, more prominently the Catholic Church; making her the first-ever African First Lady to achieve such a great feat. To celebrate her stellar achievements, Sierra Leone’s First Lady was invited to meet with both the Pope of the Catholic Church in Rome and the Royal Family in Buckingham Palace, United Kingdom, where she shared her experience with the rest of the world.

Today, Sierra Leone is proud to have one of its esteemed daughters, Madam Fatima Bio raising the green-white-and-blue flag high on the international stage. It is also worth commending His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio for giving free will to Madam First Lady and for his strong resolve to empower women and girls in Sierra Leone.

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