Her Excellency the First Lady of Sierra Leone will play host to the elected President of the Organisation of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD), Her Excellency First Lady of Namibia Mrs. Monica Geingos.
Mrs. Geingos is expected in Sierra Leone this week on a solidarity visit to Dr. Fatima Maada Bio and she is arriving to help celebrate the 4th Anniversary of the hugely successful Hands Off Our Girls campaign that was launched in Sierra Leone in December 2018.
It is believed that the First Lady of Namibia will be accompanied by her husband His Excellency President Hage Geingob of Namibia.
Hands Off Our Girls is Dr. Bio’s flagship program, launched in December 2018 specifically to bring awareness, influence policy and support women and girls to have access to reproductive healthcare and treatment for conditions like Fistula and Cancer, and to eliminate such abuses like early childhood marriage, gender-based violence and rape.
The campaign is very personal to the First Lady and she feels passionate about its success. Since launching the campaign, she has toured the entire nation, meeting with Paramount Chiefs, Imams, Pastors and Tribal Leaders to sensitise the nation on the impact of these issues affecting women and girls.
Her advocacy has had considerable success improving the quality of life for young girls and women in Sierra Leone and empowering them to speak out against being abused, evidenced by the increase in police department reports about rape and gender-based violence.
Women’s and girls’ voices are now being heard when they report sexual predators and abusers in their homes and communities.
Her Excellency’s campaign has been recognized by the African Union as a champion for empowerment of girls and women in neighbouring countries in Africa.
Some of the achievements of the campaign include but not limited to the Sexual Offence Act which was updated in September 2019, now requiring a 15-year minimum imprisonment for a rape conviction, up dramatically from a 2-year maximum incarceration.
Secondly, the conviction for child rape has been updated to life imprisonment from a 2-year maximum sentence.
Thirdly, a Fast-Track Special Court for rape cases was launched in 2020, which turns cases around within a week compared to a previous two-year wait.
Fourthly, the campaign sponsored and facilitated training of 40 medical doctors to treat rape cases and testify in court, up dramatically from just one doctor in the entire country.
Also, free sanitary pads were distributed to girls attending government-assisted schools in Sierra Leone, allowing them to maintain their education which was previously often interrupted during their monthly period.
The campaign is currently working on the construction of a hospital with 100 beds, already 75% complete; and a 7-building facility that will house survivors of rape and gender-based violence, provide counseling services, psychosocial support, medical treatment, and a family support unit – now 50% complete.