Education, equality and opportunity for girls in Sierra Leone
Partner: CAUSE Canada
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index has rated Sierra Leone as one of the most disadvantaged countries in the world. While 75% of the population live under $2 a day, girls and women are the most marginalized. Throughout the country’s ten year civil war, existing gender disparities were exacerbated through the use of rape, sexual slavery, amputations, and kidnappings. Although Sierra Leone is recovering from the devastation of the war, the situation for girls and women has improved very little, as early marriage and child labour are still common practices.
Formal education has been shown to be the most significant means through which girls can overcome these disparities. In Sierra Leone, however, girls face many barriers to attending and staying in school. UNESCO has determined that only 70% of girls enrolled in primary school will graduate from grade 6, compared with 92% of boys. Many factors contribute to this reality including:
- Lack of financial resources
- Early marriage
- Heavy household responsibilities for girls
- Lack of appropriate educational resources
- Primacy placed on boys’ education
- Mothers’ heavy workload
The project will reach 15 schools, 4,515 children – including 2,305 girls – and 120 teachers, and provide teacher training bursaries to 20 exceptional girls who would like to become rural teachers.
- Increase enrolment, retention and completion rate of girl studentsThe first objective, increased enrolment and retention of girl students, will be achieved by raising the profile of education in Koinadugu. CAUSE Canada’s Women’s Integral Empowerment Program promotes the importance of education for women in the region, increasing their appreciation for their children’s schooling, especially that of their girls. The support of Mothers’ Clubs will promote strong dialogue and role modelling for community girls. Mothers’ Clubs will also raise funds (through business activities) to support marginalized girls with their costs of schooling, and to promote the long term sustainability of the community school and its programs. Health education and services will also contribute to the continuation of girls’ school participation. In particular, the problem of girls missing a week of school each month will be addressed with the contribution of sanitary napkins. The provision of school supplies removes a key economic barrier for the retention of girl students. Teacher training will enhance the capacity of teachers to provide quality education to girls, and increase the number of female teachers. All of these initiatives promote girls’ education as a priority for the community.
- Develop girls’ leadership skillsThe second objective, girls’ leadership development, will be met through the peer literacy education program, providing young girls with examples of the benefits of staying in school. The peer literacy training program engages high school girls as mentors for primary school girls thus introducing them to important female role models. Tutors work with the students every day after school assisting them with basic literacy and numeracy skills. CAUSE Canada staff work with the high school tutors to improve their teaching skills through the introduction of games, flash cards and other engaging activities. In return for their services to the younger children, CAUSE Canada provides the high school girls with uniforms, high school fees and computer training, which they highly value. In addition to this, CAUSE implements a school government program that provides political and human rights education while giving girl and boy students equal opportunity to be elected to leadership positions. Primary school students are trained in democratic leadership and then elect Ministers of Agriculture, Health, Infrastructure, Culture, etc. to manage the affairs of the school. The students treat these responsibilities very seriously. Another component of this program, Mothers’ Clubs, will provide practical support, mentoring, role modeling and training for leadership skill development and experience.
- Improved quality of educationThe third objective, improved quality of education, will be achieved through teacher and student support. This includes the peer education program, teacher training, the provision of teaching materials and school supplies for students and teachers in 15 schools. It also includes the provision of bursaries for highly motivated and gifted girls to pursue their teacher’s education and go on to become rural teachers. There is an urgent need for more female teachers, as few women are currently teaching in Koinadugu schools. A teacher is a highly respected member of the village communities. The empowerment of women will be substantially enhanced once a higher number of women become teachers in the rural areas.
The greatest risk to this project is the predominant culture that has historically demonstrated gender inequality. However, recent national laws have been passed making it obligatory to send all children (including girls) to school until age 16. Early forced marriage has also been outlawed, making it more feasible for girls to continue their education through high school. Compliance with these laws is gradually shifting the mindset of the general population even in the rural regions of the country. Another on-going challenge is the sustainability of quality education over the long-term when government support is minimal. This is mitigated through the establishment of Mothers’ Clubs and Parent Teacher Associations in each school where participatory decision- making will be promoted and local ownership encouraged. The sustainability of the project is an integral component of its design; the knowledge and empowerment provided to girl students cannot be taken away once developed. It is expected that as barriers to girls’ education are removed, families will prioritize the education of their daughters, especially as they observe the positive impacts on their families and communities.
Why a partnership with CAUSE Canada?
Founded in 1984 in Montreal, Quebec, CAUSE Canada is an international relief and development organization that strives to empower communities and individuals in disadvantaged regions to overcome poverty and improve their quality of life. Over the past 22 years, CAUSE Canada has implemented its Sierra Leone projects through the CAUSE Canada Sierra Leone Partnership (CCSLP). This semi-autonomous field office of CAUSE employs over 50 national staff including nurses, teachers, social workers, engineers, accountants and project managers. The Country Director is a Sierra Leonean with many years of senior management experience.Throughout Sierra Leone’s 10-year civil war, CAUSE Canada implemented relief and rehabilitation programming that included refugee and displaced persons assistance, reconstruction projects, and socio-economic reintegration of war amputees and child ex-combatants. Special programs were designed for women and girls affected by war to enable them to return to school or pursue vocational training opportunities.
Since the end of hostilities CAUSE Canada has partnered with UNICEF and the Government of Sierra Leone to rebuild educational infrastructure throughout the country. This has involved the construction of schools, wells, latrines, the fabrication of desks, chairs and tables for pupils and teachers and the distribution of textbooks and school supplies. Additionally, CAUSE Canada has promoted the training of parent-teacher associations, thus helping to ensure a strong sense of community ownership.
In April 2006, CAUSE launched a child sponsorship program, CAUSE Kids. This was done in order to generate sustainable funding for formal education in Koinadugu District. This remote region of Sierra Leone was particularly devastated by the war and lacks both educational infrastructure as well as qualified teachers. As of September 2010, approximately 5,000 primary school students benefit from the CAUSE Kids program. In this model, no child is left out. One whole school is sponsored at a time and the focus is on improving both the access for girls as well as the quality of education that each child receives.
One of CAUSE Canada’s founding principles is to respond to community needs with integrated and sustainable projects. Concurrent with the CAUSE Kids program, CAUSE Canada is implementing a five-year CIDA-sponsored Women’s Integral Empowerment Program (WIEP) where thousands of village women are taught literacy, leadership and business skills. One of the surprising benefits of the WIEP initiative has been the enthusiastic interest that newly literate woman have shown for the formal education of their daughters.