By Betty Milton
The Ministry of Gender was one of the few ministries separated by President Julius Maada Bio when he took up office.
So far, it has been excelling with its policies and programmes not only for girls who mostly benefit directly but also men who are working in all areas of support.
Although the ministry stands alone, however, this is not the first time that it is standing alone, as the Ministry was first separated after the war and, thereafter, merged again by successive governments.
Since then, there has been national campaigns and advocacy for a return to a stand-alone Ministry. Given the clamour for its separation, the President thought it fit to adhere to the campaign.
Manty Tarawallie is the First Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs after the separation, “Accordingly, it’s an honour and privilege for me to be thought fit by the President to head this Ministry. Secondly it’s a privilege for me to serve my country,” she said while assuming the position.
“She said the separation was important as it enables a focused approach on gender, children and social welfare. These three areas require independent multi-discipline approaches among many other things.
“Separating the Ministries ensures concerted efforts and concentrated disciplines to enable substantive results. It reduces the burden on leaders and makes room for efficient use of resources, and also facilitates effectiveness of approaches.”
Separated as a stand-alone in January 2020, Madam Tarawallie highlighted some of the successes the Ministry has made in 14 months. They have developed the male involvement strategy to prevent sexual and gender-based violence.
“This approach,” she disclosed, “uses men and boys as allies of change while also recognizing that they too can be victims.”
Also in the area of prevention, “We have integrated sexuality education and gender rights within the basic education curriculum. This means that gender rights are taught in schools to different age groups. In response to SGBV, we develop a response strategy that speaks to a few interventions.
In this aspect, we have developed the free rape line 116 that operates 24 hours a day. We have also set up one-stop centres across the country with each centre providing a comprehensive set of free services for survivors, and these include: medical, legal, psycho-social and safe homes. We also offer free ambulance service for survivors that require support with transportation.”
Through his committed leadership and support to ensure that women and girls are safe, President Bio launched the One-Stop Centres to address Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV). These one-stop centres in Sierra Leone are the third in West Africa after Mali and Liberia.
Manty Tarawallie said: “They are an important structure to manage sexual violence as it is crucial to have a dedicated space for survivors to receive survivor-centred services for free; a space where we have trained and qualified staff, child protection and other specialized experts that can provide support to the survivors.”
Another achievement by the Government of Sierra Leone is the establishment of the Sexual Offences Court which, according to the Minister, “was born as a result of the Sexual Offences Act amended (2019). The Act stipulates that the Court must be developed and its contributions have been immense as it fast tracks the cases and reduce delays for judgement”.
Mariatu Kargbo, 18, said she is feeling safe now than before because of the laws and actions taken by the government in the area of sexual and gender-based violence and rape, stating that before this time, girls were being raped with no action taken, but the court now serves as a deterrent to such action.