By Edwina Sia Janga
In an exclusive interview with the Focal Point for Commonwealth Business Women Network-Sierra Leone Chapter, Madam Sia Bayoh, who is attending a conference in Kenya, hosted by CWBN- Kenya,she explained that her participation in the conference has benefited her, as she has learnt a lot about the use of Information Technology in business, and how it is fast becoming part of every body’s daily life.
She added that she has acquired a lot of knowledge now about women leadership that she will replicate when she returns to the country.
On her goal, she noted that it is her desire to put the Green, White and Blue Sierra Leonean flag high globally, furthering that she was now seeking engagement with the UN Women for partnership to put Sierra Leonean business women on top of the map, so that they too will benefit from whatever comes from the UN.
She said she was seeking ways that her partners will enhance the empowerment of women in the country, especially in the area of education, business and capacity building, and expressed gratitude to NATCOM, Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, GTBank and the Executive Director of the Sierra Leone Seed Certification Agency, Dr. Robert Chakanda, for their support in facilitating their trip to Kenya.
On 9th March 2022, the Commonwealth Business Women Network Africa (CWBN), commenced a seminar in Kenya under the auspices of CWBN-Kenya, coinciding with the International Day of Women.
Participants from some 19 countries took part in the meeting, some physically, whilst others virtually. The aim of the seminar was to enhance female participation in socio-economic and political life in their respective countries. It is an advocacy group, advocating for female participation and empowerment, and encouraging members to take advantage of the Africa Free Trade initiative in the continent.
In her statement, Sia Bayoh, the Commonwealth Business women Network (CBWN-Africa) focal point from Sierra Leone, expressed satisfaction in being invited to the seminar, singling out the Chief Operating Officer of CBWN-Africa, Dr. Nana Wanjau, for appointing her to serve as Focal Point for the newly-established CBWN Sierra Leone Chapter.
She further stated that “the women of Sierra Leone have long been looking forward to the opportunity of being part of a network that would cater for their urgent needs by way of acquiring quality education, leadership skills, and the wherewithal to engage in profitable business endeavours.”
She also disclosed that she and her team have initiated meaningful engagements with relevant stakeholders in the government, as well as within the private and voluntary sectors in Sierra Leone, adding that they have paid courtesy visits to certain senior public officials, notably, the First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Mrs. Fatima Maada Bio, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, and the Ministry of Youth Affairs, to inform them about the establishment of the organization.
In the area of socio-economic empowerment of women, she disclosed that the Government of Sierra Leone recently proposed a Gender Empowerment Bill that will allow women to have a 30% representation in elective and appointive positions in the country, and assured the gathering that under her stewardship, CBWN Sierra Leone will be committed to advancing UN Sustainable Development Goal 5, the Commonwealth Charter, Clusters Five, and Six of the Sierra Leone’s Medium-Term National Development Plan (2019 – 2023).
CBWN Sierra Leone’s initial activities, she said,will include delivery on the following key action points: work on the status of the organization within the governance architecture of the country; prepare a five-year strategic plan to include programs and projects to enhance institutional capacity; and develop a communications strategy that would provide a sustainable channel for awareness-raising, advocacy, and membership mobilisation.
Madam Bayoh maintained that CBWN Sierra Leone shall take advantage of the critical benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement and other related agreements to open up new markets and create opportunities for female entrepreneurs.
She went on to explain about developments in the government’s Free Quality Education Programme, which has resulted in an exponential uptake in the number of pupils accessing primary education, including girls in vulnerable communities across the country. In addition, girls offering STEM Subjects (that is, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in all Public Universities are given some form of scholarship to achieve good quality education in Sierra Leone.
She said the program was complemented by a School Feeding Programme targeting mainly vulnerable pupils in remote communities across the country.
She stressed that the Free Quality Education and the School Feeding Programme have also resulted in a significant improvement in the performance of pupils at the National Primary School Examination.
She also disclosed her own contribution to the enhancement of the FQE in Sierra Leone, her home town, where she had offered so many scholarships to vulnerable pupils and dug water wells to provide easy access to water and reduce the child pregnancy rate that is associated with such exercise of water collection in areas far away from communities.
“As part of my humble contribution to the nation, I am respectfully obliged to inform this esteemed gathering that I have awarded scholarships to over 500 hundred school-going children in deprived communities, 95% of whom are vulnerable girls, sponsored a school-feeding program for 200 orphans, and constructed water-wells in various parts of the country, out of my resources.”
She then appealed to partners and donors for support to the FQE in Sierra Leone:
“I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely and earnestly appeal through this platform to our development partners and funding agencies, including UN Agencies such as UN Women, others like the African Union, the European Union, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, the Arab Bank and the Commonwealth Businesswomen’s Network, among many other development institutions, for financial, material and technical support towards the development of Sierra Leone’s Educational Sector”.
Among her appeal were the construction of additional schools in far-flung communities, the provision of school learning materials to needy pupils, and the granting of scholarships to deserving students from the primary to tertiary levels, to be able to provide quality education for more girls, and also minimize the increasing rate of teenage pregnancy in the country.
In respect of developments in Sierra Leone, Madam Bayoh appealed for financial support to the on-going construction work on the University of Kono.
She assured her audience that with their help, she will make the CWBN Sierra Leone a household name.
Welcoming guest to the seminar, Chair of the Common Wealth Business Women Network, Nana Wanjau, expressed delight in hosting the meeting that coincided with the International Day of Women, furthering that since women form half of the world population, they should be part of any decision making process that will affect them. She also disclosed that as women, they should be proud that the world is recognizing them, of which the said declaration of the day by the United Nations as one that should be commemorated, is an example of this recognition.
She explained that the Commonwealth is led by the Queen of England, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, adding that among member States of the Common Wealth, there are 9 female government leaders. This, she maintained, is the first step, adding that for any journey, one has to take the first step, and the first step of the CBWN was taken in 2002 to help women in business and other women to take their place in leadership. The organistaion is bound by the UN Charter of equality etc. The summit is to enhance economic and political participation of women in the continent. The African women have two platforms to their advantage, and the Common wealth trade has almost tripled since 2015. DrWanjau furthered that trading in this group is 21% cheaper than trading with non-members. African women have always provided economic and political leadership at national, regional and international platforms. She stressed that this organization will provide a gender responsive approach to promote economic empowerment of women, and provides an opportunity to engage with other partners in economic activities, human capacity building, leadership training and empowerment of women, textile development, agricultural development, manufacturing, e-commerce etc.
CBWN has been participating in humanitarian and economic activities during covid-19 era. It is committed to train some ten thousand women on capacity building, financial training etc. in 2022. She furthered that they need male champions to support them in achieving their goal. She furthered that ‘Gender EquaIity today for a sustainable world tomorrow’ is the theme of the seminar, and an apt one for this seminar. She made reference to a woman who was sexually abused, noting that these are the challenges that women face across the world.
She disclosed that President UhuruKenyata arrested all those concern, adding that such behavior should not be allowed to continue, so they should stand in solidarity against such acts.
CBWN is determined to establish a research plant for agriculture, and in the area of Leadership, there is a training of women and empowerment program in; agro-business, e-commerce etc. adding that they are in conversation with international partners like UN Women, UK Kenya Tech Com, Google etc. for partnership, with training of over some 250 women currently taking place. She explained the activities that CBWN Kenya is doing in empowering women, and called on all business women in Africa to join the CBWN.
Deputy President of the CWBN, in her contribution, said that the Common Wealth is headed by women of strong character, headed by the Queen and other 9 female leaders. The Common wealth has a lot of programs for women, which include economic development, education etc. stressing that the common wealth has programs for women across the board.
She commended Dr. Wanjau for her exemplary workover the years in developing the network. The CBWN, she furthered, is engaged in developing women and girls through training and mentorship.
Women economic activities is the world’s largest emerging market. It is their desire to be on equal footing with their male counterpart, she said, adding that this forum will help women to understand international business policies and challenges, as well as engage others on such issues.
Another speaker also recognized the international women’s day, reiterating that “Gender Equality Now for a Sustainable Tomorrow” is apt for their engagement. She called on all to collaborate with each other and help those needing help, as united they will make a difference and create the space for women.
She called on members to take advantage of the Africa Free Trade Agreement, observing that 70% of the Intra-Africa trade is conducted by women in the informal sector, thus there is the need to scale up this sector to achieve their goal.
She maintained that this free trade agreement is not the first, but only the latest, and they should take the opportunity to make an impact. This trade is a potential for cheaper trade.
Other speakers also expressed similar sentiments on how women could take opportunity of the Africa free trade to empower themselves and develop their country.
They also spoke on the possibility of playing vital role in the political sector in decision making, as half of the population of the world is made up of women, and as such, they deserve to be part of the decision making mechanism.