(Freetown, October 11, 2018) – On October 11, International Day of the Girl Child, Defence for Children International’s National Section in Sierra Leone (DCI-SL) is urging the Government of Sierra Leone to take prompt action to eradicate all gender barriers that continue to prevent girls and young women to contribute to the sustainable development of Sierra Leone.
The theme of this year’s campaign is “With Her: A Skilled GirlForce”. The aim is to remind Member States including Sierra Leone to stand with girls and young women – the future leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers, scientists and software engineers – to develop their skills and to remove gender barriers they face, so that they can join A Skilled GirlForce.
This theme is particularly crucial for Sierra Leone, where 70% of youths are unemployed, and formal job opportunities for young women are relatively low in the formal sector. However because of lack of social and legal protection and the absence of measures to facilitate their integration into the formal labour market, especially in the rural areas, the concentration of women in the informal labour market (84% in rural areas and 63% in urban areas) is high. Moreover, due to dominant social patriarchal norms, girls and young women have limited access to productive assets and/or economic opportunities, increasing their vulnerability and dependence.
Girls and young women in Sierra Leone are at high risk of violence in their homes, communities, at school and in their workplace. Gender based violence (GBV) is widespread and highly prevalent in the country. 81% of girls aged 2–14 years old have experienced different forms of severe physical violence. With 90% of girls and women who have gone through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Sierra Leone has one of the highest prevalence rates in the world. Moreover, around 18% of the girls in Sierra Leone are married before they are 15 and 48% are married before the age of 18.
While DCI-SL welcomes the government’s launch of the first phase of the “Free Quality School Education Programme”, it is also calling to immediately take concrete measures to improve the quality, relevance and gender-responsiveness of teaching and learning to enable girls to develop foundational, transferable and job-specific skills needed in their everyday life and at work.
Additionally, DCI-SL urges the Government to rapidly expand access to inclusive education and training; change stereotypes, social norms and unconscious bias in relation to gender roles, to enable girls to have access to the same learning and career opportunities as boys. Furthermore, the Government should create initiatives to support girls’ transition from school to work, such as career guidance, apprenticeships, internships and entrepreneurships; and strengthen strategic partnerships with private companies which can act as leaders and financiers, helping to train girls and bring them into the workforce. DCI-SL also reminds the Government of Sierra Leone to immediately lift the ban on pregnant girls attending school, and to promote safe learning environment for girls to continue to stay in schools and strive.
Finally, DCI-SL is calling on the Government to enable access to finance and enterprise development for female entrepreneurs and deliver large-scale public and private sector programming to increase girls’ participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) learning.