Her Excellence Hands Off Our Girls, founded in 2018 by Dr. Fatima Maada Jabbe Bio, the First Lady of Sierra Leone, has evolved to become one of the continent’s most important pro-women movements. The goal of the campaign is to safeguard women and girls from sexual assault, early marriage, and underage pregnancies.

39% of girls are married before they age 18, and 13% are married before they turn 15, according to a 2018 demographic and health survey carried out in Sierra Leone.

According to the World Health Organization, teenage pregnancies are a significant factor in maternal deaths in Sierra Leone. In 2018 alone, there were more than 2,300 rape incidents registered. In light of this, Her Excellency Dr. Fatima Jabbe Maada Bio launched the Hands Off Our Girls campaign to combat societal stereotypes, particularly those that subject young girls to early marriage and pregnancy as well as label them as objects of pleasure.

The campaign also raises awareness of the risks of SGBV, develops policies to address the problems, gives girls a voice to speak out about societal ills, and empowers them to aid in the development of the nation. Her Excellency believes that protecting women and girls is essential because they are our most precious resource.

“For these guys, who assert that they watch for their own children at home even while they chase other women, we must serve as an example. We need to change the laws and keep up with education, particularly civic education, if we want to instill in these males the idea that ladies belong in school rather than running the household. Rapists should not be protected because they are human beings; instead, they should be put in prison for life” she noted.

Her considerable work with “Hands Off Our Girls” in Sierra Leone and the rest of the world is something for which we are very pleased. Four years after the implementation of her initiative and zealous advocacy for gender empowerment and the protection of women against sexual and gender-based violence, more girls are now safer in their communities and schools, more girls continue their education and are not pressured into early marriages, more girls have access to menstrual hygiene products, and there is greater recognition of the immense potential of girls in fostering sustainable and inclusive development.

In Sierra Leone, issues like equality, equity, access, or empowerment suddenly have no bearing on how women see themselves and how valuable they are to society. Dr. Fatima Maada Bio, I appreciate you. Sierra Leone is overjoyed that your diligent and selfless leadership has received continental acclaim.

The four-year successes of the first lady’s Hands off Our Girls initiative are undeniable, and that much is obvious.

After being significantly increased from the previous maximum sentence of 2 years, the Sexual Offence Act was updated in September 2019 and now mandates a minimum term of 15 years in prison for rape convictions.

A conviction for child rape now carries a possible sentence of life in prison instead of just two years.

A Fast-Track Special Court for rape cases was established in 2020; cases are now decided in a week rather than taking two years to complete.

The campaign financed and oversaw the training of 40 doctors to handle rape cases and offer court testimony, from only one doctor in the entire country.

Girls participating in government-sponsored schools in Sierra Leone received subsidized sanitary pads, allowing them to finish their education—which had previously frequently been interrupted by their monthly cycle.

After 2028, everyone will remember the first lady, Dr. Fatima Jabbe Maada Bio. It will be remembered as having launched the largest pro-woman campaigns in Africa.