Sierra Leone - let girls learn!
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29 August 2016 Update: Progress! The United Kingdom and Ireland both responded to Equality Now’s collective call to make sure that the education programs they are supporting in Sierra Leone also address the pervasive issue of sexual violence against school girls, and to make sure they aren’t inadvertently supporting a discriminatory education system. Both assured us that their funding was not meant to create a separate and unequal system for girls. We plan to continue the discussion to explore ways in which the international community can better support the re-integration of the pregnant girls into the mainstream schooling system and for concrete measures to ensure that all girls can get an education without fear of violence or exploitation.
To keep international attention on the situation, Equality Now also raised the ongoing human rights violations with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and at a meeting with the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice. In Sierra Leone, we strategized with our partners on the best approach to hold the state accountable for failing to protect girls from violence and discrimination. We are committed to supporting our partners work to end the ban against pregnant girls attending school and to ensure that Sierra Leone urgently addresses the rampant sexual violence against girls. Thank you for your support!
Ongoing human rights crisis in Sierra Leone: thousands of adolescent girls who became pregnant—often due to sexual abuse or exploitation—are still being denied the right to attend school!
The Ebola epidemic focused international attention on the widespread sexual violence and exploitation of girls in Sierra Leone. Many young girls returning to school after the crisis found themselves denied the right to an education because they had become pregnant:
“Samantha” was impregnated by her teacher when she was only 16. He would often ask her to carry water to his house in exchange for basic school supplies and good grades. Ultimately, the teacher molested and raped Samantha, who kept quiet because she was afraid of what he would do to her in retaliation. Despite her family’s interventions, the teacher was allowed to continue working in the classroom—a classroom that Samantha was expelled from because of her pregnancy.
Like many girls in Sierra Leone, “Jeanne” lost both of her parents to the Ebola epidemic and is on her own at age 17. She hoped that getting an education would be her ticket to a better life. However, “biker boys” demanded sex from Jeanne in exchange for transportation to and from her job and school, and having no other options, she complied. Jeanne became pregnant and was devastated to find out she could no longer attend school or sit for public exams.
“Frances” was only 13 years old when she was exploited and became pregnant by a much older man who helped pay for her school fees in exchange for sexual acts. She too is no longer allowed to go to school. Frances’ mother, a single mom without any support from relatives, despairs this injustice.
In an attempt to accommodate these “out of school” girls, the Government of Sierra Leone set up alternate measures, supported by international aid. However, while this alternative might have been based in good intentions, the resulting separate and unequal schooling is only perpetuating discrimination and stigma against girls who have already been victimized by those with power.
TAKE ACTION! No girl who finds herself pregnant, and especially after having been exploited and violated, should be additionally victimized by being denied an education. And, international donors must ensure all girls are educated and use their funding abilities to promote equality and freedom from violence.
Please join Equality Now and our partners, Women Against Violence and Exploitation (WAVES), Women’s Partnership for Justice and Peace (WPJP), Graceland Sierra Leone, Child Welfare Society and the Education for All Coalition – Sierra Leone, by:
- Calling on Sierra Leone to immediately act to stop the violence, punish the perpetrators and lift the ban on pregnant girls attending school.
- Calling on international donors, especially the Governments of the United Kingdom, Ireland and the United States, to urge Sierra Leone to provide a safe mainstream education for girls, and to ensure that education policies they fund address the broader issues of sexual violence and exploitation.