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Sierra Leone News: International Women’s day Symposium of women endorses State of Public Emergency

To mark this year’s 34th International Women’s day, Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF) and Voice of Women organized a symposium and discussion for adolescent girls and young women. Held at Yeanies Guest House, conference hall along Azzolini Highway in Makeni, 10 representatives each from eight institutions catering for adolescent girls and young women were guests and participants. They endorsed the Government’s declaration of a state of public emergency. With one voice they said women have suffered long enough and it’s about time to put a stop to gender and sexual-based violence, especially minors. The international hashtag for this year’s Women’s Day celebration is #balanceforbetter, and the local theme is, Think Equal, Think Straight and be Bold. As the world has committed to women, many activities were held by various women’s groups and human rights organizations around the country. The Medical Officer at AHF, Dr. John Mbeteh, explained that AHF is a health service provider operating in all four regions in Sierra Leone in partnership with the National Aids Secretariat to support care and services to People Living With HIV (PLWH) including people who want to know their status. On International Women’s Day, Dr. Mbeteh described women as a special, priceless gift from God, and they should be respected, honoured and given the space they deserve, to enhance women empowerment in all sectors of life. Motivational speaker and women activist, Dorcas Taylor-Tucker called on the students in attendance that they have to be focused in what they want to be in future and not allow tradition, culture and other social vices to marginalize them. She recalled her life growing up poor and the eldest of five siblings, but that did not stop her from achieving her life dreams. “Most times women suffer not from the burden of life situation, but because some women refuse to stand up, be bold and speak up to be heard, and this is the reason responsible for the high rate of gender-based violence in society.” The topic for the symposium was gender equity for better living and great responses came from the students from the various institutions, some of whom also encountered harsh conditions while growing up. Unfortunately for Zainab Turay, who is in her mid-thirties and a resident of Makeni, does not know what International Women’s day is and was out on Friday hawking coconuts to put food on the table and pay fees for her four children. “I have sold coconuts for ten years and make little profit to keep my family alive, so I have to plant potato garden to compliment my efforts”, she confirmed with pity. Happy Kids and Adolescents, Executive Director, Mariama Marco-Conteh said her organization is encouraging vulnerable women to engage themselves in income generating activities in order to help them cope with the family. “Many women have suffered and continue to suffer in silence from sexual and gender based violence, and are left with life long illnesses including HIV. March 8th is not only to celebrate women but a time to walk the length and breadth of the country to access women who do not understand about their rights as well as role in society towards development”. Musu Jimmy has been working with vulnerable girls and women living with HIV, and complained about the many concerns raised by PLWH accessing facilities to get monthly supply of the right ARV’s. She added she did not lose hope and thought all was lost, but her inner strength pushed her to be steadfast and strong. “I have graduated from University and because I stick to medication adherence, my viral load is undetectable and I’m living happily with my family”. Abdul Kanu a senior social services officer in the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, recognized the role partners are playing to compliment Government’s effort, noting that the Ministry is overwhelmed with challenges to address social issues in the country. He encouraged the students to believe in themselves and further their education.

AC/9/3/19

Monday March 11, 2019.

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