Maryann Kaikai meets UN Special Rapporteur on Sexual Violence: Zainab Bangura
In August 2013, following the African Women's Entrepreneurship Programme and I'm heading to Sierra Leone soon . Before my departure I paid a courtesy call to Zainab Bagura, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence in Conflict for a bit of inspiration.
Zainab Bangura is one of Sierra Leone’s most influential social activists. Raised in Yonibana, a village in Sierra Leone's rural heartland in the north of the country, Zainab Bangura, came from a traditional system where women couldn't be educated. Thanks to the sacrifices of her mother, she attended the prestigious Mathora Girls School, the Annie Walsh Girls Secondary School and graduated from the Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. She later studied in the United Kingdom for advanced diplomas in insurance. While in her early 30s, she became vice-president of one of her country's largest insurance companies.
Dubbed “Sierra Leone’s unlikely minister” by the BBC, Zainab Bangura gave up a career in insurance to turn her life to politics. Zainab Bangura’s career as a social activist started during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war (1991–2002), when she left her career in insurance to set up the Campaign for Good Governance, which called for peace and democracy in Sierra Leone. Despite being targeted by rebel groups for speaking out forcefully against the atrocities committed against the civilian population by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Zainanb Bangura became a champion for women’s rights, democracy and human rights in Sierra Leone.
She began with consciousness-raising efforts among urban market women, reminding her followers that her own mother was a market woman. In 1994 she founded Women Organized for a Morally Enlightened Nation (W.O.M.E.N.), the first non-partisan women's rights group in the country. The following year she co-founded the Campaign for Good Governance (CGG). Then, using CGG as her platform, she campaigned for the holding of national elections that finally drove the NPRC from power in 1996 and restored democratic government. This was Sierra Leone's first democratic election in 25 years, and the Sierra Leonean media and the general public attributed that success largely to her efforts.
After the war in 2002, Zainab Bangura set her sights on a campaign to become the first female president of Sierra Leone. In 2006 she left Sierra Leone to become a senior member of the United Nations team charged with rebuilding Liberia in the wake of that country's civil war. In 2007, she returned to take the post of minister of foreign affairs, making her the second woman to serve in that post. From 2010-2012 she served as Sierra Leone's Minister of Health and sanitation. She was then appointed as the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict on in June 2012.
Zainab Bangura has won several international awards for her promotion of democracy and human rights in Africa, including: the African International Award of Merit for Leadership (Nigeria, 1999); the Human Rights Award given by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (New York, 2000); the Bayard Rustin Humanitarian Award given by the A. Philip Randolph Institute (Washington, DC, 2002); and the Democracy Award given by the National Endowment for Democracy (Washington, DC, 2006).