The 10th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights, convened by the African Federation for Sexual Health and Rights and hosted by Purposeful Sierra Leone in partnership with the Government of Sierra Leone, on Monday 27 June, opened at the Bintumani Hotel in Freetown, with a Youth Pre-Conference, held under the theme “Accelerating the Elimination of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Africa.”
Speaking at the official opening of the event, UNFPA Representative to Sierra Leone, Ms. Nadia Rasheed said UNFPA is committed to work with stakeholders including governments, civil society, youth led organisations towards accelerating progress to end gender-based violence and in creating spaces for young people’s voices to be heard on all issues affecting them.
Ms. Rasheed said, in line with its transformative agenda of accelerating progress towards ending gender based violence, UNFPA was proud to be co-sponsoring the conference and to support the participation of more than 175 young people.
“This conference is an incredible opportunity to connect with other young people and with distinguished experts and decision makers from across the continent. It’s an opportunity to gain new knowledge and skills, to be exposed to different perspectives, and to fuel your advocacy on the issues that you are most passionate about,” she told the over 350 participants drawn from across 41 African countries.
Ms. Rasheed noted that Africa is home to 130 million girls and women who were married in childhood, 140 million girls and women who have undergone FGM, and 40 million girls who have experienced both of these harmful practices” but that despite efforts and commitments to end gender based violence, it remains a serious issue, hindering young people from reaching their full potential.
Officially opening the conference, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Youth Affairs, Hon. Mohamed Orman Bangura indicated that now is the time to invest in young people and promote dialogue and understanding across cultures and generations that would advance human rights for all people.
“To ensure that development policies work for everyone, we must use human rights as our foundation. We must promote and protect the human rights of all young people, especially the most vulnerable ones,” Minister Bangura said.
He called on leaders to listen to the voices of young people and invest in them and ensure they become part of all decision-making processes. “It is time to carry the voices of young people forward to the United Nations Summit in September, where leaders will review progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals,” Minister Bangura said.
Also speaking at the event was Chernor Bah, Co-founder and Co-CEO of Purposeful Sierra Leone and Conference Host. “We are a feminist organization. It was exactly because of moment like this that Purposeful was put together. We believe in young people.
We are particularly excited by the fact that almost half of the delegates would be young people who are leading the change, and who are the reason that we started Purposeful as an organization,” Bah said.
The conference brings together Civil Society, Governments, UN Agencies, human rights activists and development partners for a dialogue on a common approach to ending violence against women and girls in Africa.
John Baimba Sesay