Sunday, March 8, 2020 | International Women's Day

On Women's Day, enjoy this archive photo of Haja Zainab Hawa Bangura and a group of women as you celebrate the day. Currently, Zainab is the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi. She was appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in December 2018.

Bangura became a social activist when Sierra Leone was ruled by a military junta. She began with consciousness-raising efforts among urban market women, reminding her followers that her own mother was a market woman.

In 2007, Bangura became Sierra Leone's foreign minister. She was the second woman to serve in that post, following Shirley Gbujama who held that position from 1996 to 1997. She served as Minister of Health and Sanitation from 2010 to 2012.

The daughter of an imam, Zainab Hawa Bangura was born "Zainab Hawa Sesay" in Yonibana, Tonkolili District in the Northern Province of British Sierra Leone. She attended secondary school on a scholarship that was awarded to her by the Mathora Girls Secondary School near Magburaka. She later attended the Annie Walsh Girls Secondary School in the capital city of Freetown.

After graduating from Sierra Leone's Fourah Bay College, Bangura moved to the United Kingdom for advanced diplomas in Insurance Management at the City University Business School of London and the University of Nottingham. While in her early 30s, she became vice-president of one of her country's largest insurance companies.

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 junta from power in 1996 and restored democratic government.

During Sierra Leone's civil war (1991–2002) Bangura spoke out against the atrocities committed against the civilian population by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and was targeted for assassination several times by that group. She also spoke against the corruption in the civilian government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and the atrocities committed against civilians by government soldiers. In June 1997, as fighting engulfed the country, Bangura fled on a fishing boat to neighboring Guinea.

In the 2002 elections, Bangura ran against Kabbah for the presidency of Sierra Leone, departing for the first time from her accustomed role as a non-partisan civil society activist. She won less than one percent of the vote, and her Movement for Progress (MOP) party failed to gain any seats in Sierra Leone's parliament. Bangura claimed that her party's low vote count resulted from corruption in the voting system.

After the 2002 elections, Bangura founded the National Accountability Group (NAG) whose mission was to fight against official corruption and to promote transparency and accountability in government. In 2006 she left Sierra Leone for neighboring Liberia where she was appointed Director of the Civil Affairs Office in the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and given responsibility for the reconstruction of 16 Liberian ministries and 30 government agencies following that country's devastating civil war.

Bangura returned to Sierra Leone in 2007 after Ernest Bai Koroma won the presidency in a national election and was named foreign minister shortly thereafter.


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