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Sierra Leone News: “The world has failed to invest in the human capital of its women”- Zainab Bangura

 Zainab Bangura

Zainab Bangura

In a speech on Friday as part of a program put on by the 50/50 group, a non partisan gender justice organization, Zainab Hawa Bangura noted that women leaders are often called “iron maidens”  and not always in a nice way.
“But let me tell you, sometimes it takes an iron maiden to shatter a glass ceiling,” she said as the crowd of at least a hundred at the Family Kingdom hall broke into cheers and applause.
Bangura would know about breaking glass ceilings. Now serving as the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, she came from a humble upbringing. Born in 1959, Bangura’s father was a Muslim Imam and her mother was a market woman. In her speech she said it was her mother’s struggles that inspired her to work for the rights of women and girls, especially for education.
Bangura travelled to the UK to complete her higher education, and became successful in the insurance industry when she returned to Sierra Leone. During NPRC military rule, Bangura worked as a pro-democracy activist. Afterward she founded Sierra Leone’s first non-partisan women’s rights group, Women Organized for a Morally Enlightened Nation (W.O.M.E.N.). In 2006 she travelled to Liberia with the United Nations effort to help the country recover from its civil war.
A long-time critic of corruption and lack of transparency in the Sierra Leone government, Bangura served as foreign minister for President Ernest Bai Koroma soon after he was elected, and as Health and Sanitation Minister from 2010 to 2012. In 2012 she was appointed to her UN role as Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
In her speech on Friday, Bangura spoke about seeing gender injustice around the world in her role with the UN. “My work over the last 4 years as the United Nation’s special representative of sexual violence has taken me to some of the poorest and most dangerous places on earth,” she said.
When she was first appointed to the UN, Bangura said, the organization had recently recognized sexual violence as a tactic of war. In the past, rape was too often viewed as an inevitable byproduct of war. But recognizing it as criminal systemic abuse was an important step forward, Bangura said.
In Syria and other Middle Eastern countries that have been hit by waves of sexual violence from ISIS and other groups, Bangura has worked to shift the shame of rape away from victims to the perpetrators.
Extremism is often accompanied by abuses of women’s rights, Bangura said, and extremists know that the best way to control a population is to control women’s bodies. “These wars are being fought on the bodies of women and girls,” she said. “There can be no peace of mind without peace of mind for women and their families.”
On a trip to South Sudan with the UN, Bangura remembered a women telling her “Here we live under the rule of men, not under the rule of law.”
Despite this epidemic of violence, Bangura said she believes progress is possible. But for this to happen, not only must there be a halt to sexual violence, but women should be given equal opportunities in society. Around the world, women have less access to technology, healthcare and political power, and earn less than men, she noted.
“This is not accidental. It is not naturally occurring. It is a program of cultural bias.”
Hiring women is an advantage, and adds value to companies, Bangura said. And yet still, “The world has failed to invest in the human capital of its women.”
Society cannot achieve its full potential until women and girls do, Bangura said  and women can be anything if they are only given the chance.
Bangura ended her speech by telling the story of a Sierra Leonean woman she met who survived the civil war, and almost died of Ebola. But she came through her difficulties with a more determined attitude than before. “That woman,” Bangura said, “is Sierra Leone.”
By Chetanya Robinson
Monday August 15, 2016

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