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.
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.