Africa

Coronavirus lockdown: Sierra Leone 'role model' minister carries baby and holds Zoom meeting

Man with a child on his back Image copyright Aissatou Bah

At first it looks like a cute Twitter picture to cheer us up in these uncertain times.

But as the man sharing the image of his 10-month-old daughter tied to his back during an online meeting was Sierra Leone's education minister, the conversation turned to gender roles.

David Moinina Sengeh said he wanted to set an example for other men.

He told the BBC that it was very rare to see a child on a father's back in his country.

Of course, a picture of a woman with a baby on her back would have barely raised an eyebrow, something which the 33-year-old acknowledges.

Zoom multi-tasking

"Many women do this daily, but it is so normalised that we don't talk about it at all. If it was my wife who did it then this would not have been a viral tweet," he told the BBC's Newsday programme from Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, where there is a partial lockdown to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The education minister was in the kitchen at home feeding Peynina when he started taking part in a Zoom meeting. He noticed that she looked sleepy, so decided to tie her on his back in order to carry on with the meeting.

This image "forces men to think about themselves, it shows them that it is possible to take care of their child", Dr Sengeh said.

"I have friends who have never ever changed a diaper and they have several children, and they don't even understand how that is possible," he added.

Some men responded to his tweet with pictures of their own childcare efforts.

Role model

He has also been applauded by some activists.

"He is a role model to other men in Sierra Leone and in Africa," Sierra Leonean women's rights campaigner Nemata Majeks-Walker told the BBC.

"He is somebody who does not believe that it is only a woman who should take care of her children."

The education minister also wanted to encourage leaders, particularly his male counterparts, to share their family lives. He thinks that it has helped him better understand and empathise with other parents and should lead to better policy making.

Image copyright TED
Image caption Before becoming education minister Dr Sengeh helped develop prosthetic limbs

The UN's population fund says that "gender inequality and denial of women's rights are still prevalent at all levels in Sierra Leonean society". An assessment that Dr Sengeh agreed with.

He said that more girls than boys drop out of education before the end of high school and he was developing policies, which he described as "radical inclusion", that should boost the number of girls who stay at school.

A month ago, he was instrumental in overturning the country's ban on pregnant girls going to school.

Sierra Leone has 124 confirmed cases of coronavirus and has recorded seven deaths from the disease.

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