ACSHR conference: UNFPA assures support to end SGBV

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UNFPA country representative, Nadia Rasheed speaking at the pre-conference

By Alfred Koroma

United Nations Population  Fund (UNFPA) Representative in Sierra Leone, Nadia Rasheed, has said UNFPA is committed to working with governments, civil society; youth led organizations and other stakeholders to accelerate progress on ending Gender Based Violence.

The UNFPA representative said every young person has right to a life free from violence and free from harmful practices. But unfortunately, she said girls across Africa in particular continue to face high risk of experiencing sexual and gender based violence, and harmful practices such as child mirage and female genital mutilation.

Rasheed made the statement while speaking to the youth at the Pre-conference of the 10th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights at the Bintumani Hotel, Freetown.

The International conference which is scheduled to last for five days began yesterday with a pre-conference organized for the youth across Africa to set the agenda before the main conference starts on Wednesday. The pre-conference brought about 400 youth delegates together from different countries, mostly from Africa.

The conference started with the youth because they have power, the ideas and creativity to show the future needs.  The pre-conference will also set the tone for the manifesto of the main conference.  It’s a platform for the youths to chart among themselves, so they can decide the kind of energy they need for the conference, says Chernor Bah, co-founder of Purposeful, Sierra Leone based girls’ activism organization hosting the conference.

According to Rasheed, Africa is home to 130 million girls and women who were married in childhood; 140 girls and women who have undergone FGM, and 40 million girls who have experienced both of these harmful practices.

She said gender based violence remains serious and rampant issue, hindering young people from reaching their full potential, despite efforts and commitments to end it.  This violence, she noted, disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable, including disadvantaged girls and people living with disability.

“To change this devastating reality, we need everyone to play a their  role-  be it sensitizing our friends, families and communities on the harms of sexual and gender based violence, or advocating for and implementing policies and programmes  to prevent violence, or reporting on  cases of violence , creating  the  legal  environment to end violence and other harmful practices.  Each one of us can and should speak up against sexual and gender based violence, the UNFPA country representative said, assuring the Agency’s commitment to fight gender based violence.  

“We are committed to working with and for young people to create an environment that enables you to live up to your full potential, and to ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights , and its theme accelerating the elimination sexual and gender-based violence- a goal that lies at the core of our mission,” Nadia Rasheed told the crowded hall.

“At UNFPA, we are committed to working with governments, civil society youth led organizations and other stakeholders, to ensure that we accelerate progress on ending violence, she said, assuring their commitment to creating spaces for young people’s voices to be heard on all issues that affect them.”

Addressing the youth, Rasheed advised them to take the lessons, insights they gains from the conference as an opportunity, spread the knowledge, and to keep speaking out against issues that affect them and other youth in their  communities, countries and regions. She added that youth should always always remember that their voice is important.

“Now is the time to promote dialogue and understand across cultures, norms, values, generations to advance human rights for all young Africans, the Minister of Youth Affairs, Mohamed Urman Bangura said, while highlighting the challenges facing youths in Africa and calling on countries to address policies that seek to address the situation and realities of youth across the continent.

He called for investment in the youth especially in health, education and employment; saying the sustainable development goals cannot be achieved unless the world’s young population is involved.

Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights which properly begins on Wednesday is Sierra Leone’s largest international conference that will bring together 900 delegates including 350 youth activists from 41 countries with social campaigners, academics, policy makers and influencers to acknowledge the progress made in Sierra Leone and across Africa in the fight against sexual gender base violence and to identify means to accelerate the elimination of sexual gender base violence in the continent.

The conference will focus on knowledge sharing, consciousness raising, and coalition building to prevent and mitigate SGBV across settings, including in fragile and crisis contexts and online.

It will target to amplify voices of survivors of SGBV in diverse settings by cantering the leadership, lived experience and strategic actions of survivors across all conference activity.

The conference which will utilize a range of innovative methodologies, traditional plenary and workshop sessions, will also serve as a platform promising programmatic  policy practices in ending SGBV; hold spaces of collective care,  wellness, and healing for all and  facilitate dialogue on accountability and financing the flight to end SGBV.

The 900 delegates aged from 13 to 75 will participate in over 45 curated sessions. First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Madam Fatima Maada Bio, Chief Patron, and the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Aisha Buhari are among the twelve headline speakers and contributors of the high level conference, organized in collaboration with the Government of Sierra Leone.