The challenge that under-represented groups face in Sierra Leone is significant. To compound the very real and present issues that face every individual in Sierra Leone, if you find yourself in a group that is oppressed or stripped of rights you have even fewer chances to gain an education or to make a difference.
The biggest inequality that we encounter in Sierra Leone is around the issue of gender. Sierra Leone ranks 66 out of 86 on the 2012 Social Institutions Gender Index due to statistics like these:
|School-age population enrolled in schools
||Proportion of students in Tertiary education
||Literacy levels of 15-24 year olds
|Girls married by 18 years old
||Women who have undergone FGM
|| Women who support and challenge FGM
Sierra Leone is a traditional society where girls’ education is undervalued by many; often girls’ education is considered as secondary to their male siblings. Worldwide it is clear that where women’s education is disadvantaged, the whole society and economy is disadvantaged. In Sierra Leone women remain critically excluded from education, which has a significant impact on social and economic independence. After poverty related issues, low academic self-esteem is the second most frequently expressed reason for dropping out of school among marginalized girls. Girls lack the support to join school from their communities, and once in school they often lack the confidence to engage in the classroom and excel after school and in society.
We know that education directly affects these statistics: the ICRW notes that girls with higher levels of schooling are less likely to marry as children. In Mozambique, for example, some 60 percent of girls with no education are married by 18, compared to 10 percent of girls with secondary schooling and less than one percent of girls with higher education.
Building equality in our schools
Recognising that life before EducAid will have most likely ill-prepared our female students we have developed a number of initiatives within our schools to specifically to address the challenges that women face. The issues range from: a lack of participation in education; unsafe, negative or hostile residential environments; unhealthy, abusive or exploitative attitudes from men to women; and, an under-representation of women in decision-making throughout Sierra Leone.
We find that a lack of role models is a problem for our young female students, and we are constantly looking to find strong women to provide this function. EducAid provides opportunities to our best students and staff to go on to further education. The appraisal for ‘best students and staff’ is not based exclusively upon exam results, but upon how they have individually acted to work towards all of our objectives. Sometimes these staff will be put through teacher training courses, and other times they will be invited to apply to University courses that EducAid will fund. All those students that are supported through tertiary education are expected to return to EducAid as part of their dedication to developing citizenship behaviour, and it is those female alumni that return as teachers to work with the young girls in their educational and personal development.
Isata Kamara – Case Study
Isata joined EducAid at JSS level where she was one of the founding members of the Women’s Project. This is her story, taken from an interview at the University of Makeni in 2015:
“Before I came to EducAid I was living in the streets, selling mangos. Fortunately a teacher from EducAid found me and brought me to EducAid. The Women’s Project is a place where there is group of women who have dropped out, some have never set foot in school. I went to EducAid and I was in the Women’s Project. EducAid is trying to make us strong, beautiful and independent women. Being at the Women’s Project has helped me a lot. Though at first I found it very difficult, as time went on, I started to cope. I was there and I was doing my best. I was fortunate to be promoted to different classes. I started doing my WASSCE and got my 5 qualifications. That is the reason why I’m at university. The system in EducAid is the same as in university. In EducAid we were doing independent work, and when you do independent work, you can do everything you want. Now I can make decisions myself, I can do whatever I feel is good and will improve my life. In the University of Makeni, I find it easy to study because I’m used to independent work. EducAid is a strong organisation that builds on the strength of women. You can tell the EducAid women because we are stronger academically. There is a difference in terms of academic affairs. We perform very well: we study harder. EducAid puts us in the situation that in the future we can stand firm and make our own decisions. We make our lives better.”
Isata graduated from UniMak in 2017 with honours in Development Studies, where she focussed on women’s equality. Isata has rejoined the EducAid staff and is working as head of the Equality Team, developing projects to tackle equality issues.
Building equality through the Quality Enhancement Programme
In the Quality Enhancement Programme we lay as much focus on building gender equality as we do in our schools. We see the lack of equality in these schools to be very clear, and very damaging for the students involved. Not only do the attitudes damage the young women, this archaic attitude compounds the societal traits for the whole future generation. We make it a matter of priority to educate the head teachers, teachers and students in the importance valuing women in all aspects of life. Whilst these lessons are not always immediately taken up, once they are bedded down we see a massive impact in the quality and welfare of all students. Once these lessons are embedded the whole school benefits and the results are rarely reversed.
We education the teachers and head teachers in matters that affect society including the issues around domestic and sexual abuse, child-marriage, forced marriages and of course women’s education.
Building equality through our Women’s Prison Programme
Women in the criminal justice system in Sierra Leone face severe problems and barriers to justice. Often, women caught up in petty crime are put in to jail and are made to wait many months before court dates are set or their cases can be heard. Without any money, women are often unable to prepare a case or to defend themselves. Financial plight has almost always lead them to the criminal justice system, and often these women feel as though they have no way out.
EducAid partners with AdvocAid, an NGO working in Sierra Leone that provides help to female and male prisoners in the justice system. Our teachers go in to the prisons three days every week to deliver crucial numeracy and literacy classes. We believe that the provision of education can help to break the cycle of poverty and petty crime. By providing women in the prison system with the fundamental tools of language and numeracy we expect to see them improve their personal situation.
Explore more of our objectives by clicking on one of the links below:
Of course, running 8 school sites across the country, a national teacher training programme, as well as our first stride in to tertiary education means that we have lots to say about our programmes as well. You can find out more about these by visiting our Programmes page.