His Excellency Rtd. Brig. Julius Maada Bio and the First Lady, Madam Fatima Maada Bio honoured a closed-door meeting invitation of the Executive Director of UNAIDS on Thursday 23rd September 2021, at one of the United Nations General Assembly meeting rooms in New York City, U.S.A.
The Executive Director of UNAIDS, Madam Winnie Byanyima expressed her delight in meeting the President and First Lady of Sierra Leone, whose work she has been following individually and humbled to be discussing the way forward of girls and education in the African continent, as that’s one of the key priorities of the United Nations.
Underscoring the importance of her proposal to have the First Lady Fatima Maada Bio become the new face of the United Nation’s Education Plus Initiative, she noted that the initiative is geared towards allowing girls to go through formal education and further teach them about sex education and orientation which she believes will ultimately reduce the risk of them contracting HIV.
Madam Winnie gave a highlight of the activities of the First Lady she has been following and how amplified and authentic her voice has been in the protection and empowerment of girls in Sierra Leone, as she continues to impact and influence other nations to replicate what she does in her countries.
According to the Executive Director, she was overwhelmed with the speech delivered by President Julius Maada Bio at the United Nations general assembly, specifically how passionately he spoke about girls’ right to education and inclusivity in his human capital development agenda and how he spoke with clear first-hand evidence of the progress his government continue to make in that direction.
In her concluding statement, she confirmed how impressed she was left, after First Lady spoke passionately, with great knowledge on sexual violence and issues affecting adolescents in the African continent, adding that her voice is authentic and the UNAIDS team would love to work with her as a fearless First Lady using her voice and platform to address issues of inequalities affecting girls.
Responding to the Executive Director, His Excellency Rtd. Brig. Julius Maada expressed his sentiment on behalf of himself and the First Lady, while ascertaining the invitation and offer proposed to the First Lady is timely and quite prudent, giving clear evidence of the work she does in Sierra Leone and how she has succeeded in breaking the societal taboo of not talking to girls about sex education and reporting their abusers in cases of rape and sexual penetration.
H.E disclosed, that the First Lady deals with the advocacy aspect of narrowing the inequality gaps through the Hands Off Our Girls campaign, while his government works on the right policies and implementation to give girls an equal chance to be educated and empowered.
Highlighting some of the key achievements of his government, President Bio mentioned the One-Stop-Shop centres for rape victims, the special sexual offences court for rape cases, the exceptional advocacy work of the HOOG campaign by the First Lady and the overturned of the ban on pregnant girls accessing school after giving birth, stating that statistics have shown exponential progress on the results from girls returnees in schools and much higher retention of girls due to the intervention of the First Lady’s Free Sanitary Pad initiative, as she established herself with the girls so much that they feel confident to open up and share their everyday realities with her.
President Bio pledged his government’s commitment to work with the UNAIDS agenda, while noting that Madam First Lady’s involvement will be pivotal in achieving great success of the initiative, due to her resounding, authentic and captivating voice that speaks to the hearts of many.
First Lady warmly appreciated the reception of Madam Winnie, while noting that her advocacy to ensure every girl has equal right and access to education is stem from her personal ordeal, and her passionate campaign has garner lots of attention from the country’s capital city to the last village and town in Sierra Leone.
She mentioned the commitment of the Paramount Chief, religious leaders, community leaders, parents, girls’ rights movements and civil society activists, whom she continues to work with to create more impact.
Madam Fatima pledged her commitment to work with UNAIDS, as their concerns are genuine and should allow radical inclusion like what president Bio is doing in Sierra Leone, adding that her office works mainly to prevent girls from not getting pregnant and have an equal and fair opportunity to stay in school like their male colleagues.
In her concluding statement, First Lady stated that, with the way the world is transiting, girls most times prefer to seek answers concerning their sexualities or its related components from outside the home, due to lack of adequate parental communication on sex education and personal hygiene, hence the need to work aggressively in eradicating such myth from society, when it has to do with sex education for girls.