W.E. Can Lead | Sierra Leonean women’s education: Some facts and figures
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Sierra Leonean women’s education: Some facts and figures

Why educate women?

Educate a girl and you change a life, a family and a whole generation. Investment in the girls of a country is perhaps the most promising way to change the destiny of a country.

Educated women:

Are more likely to be healthier.
Marry later and have fewer children.
Have a greater chance of sending their children to school.
Have a better chance to be employed and be paid for their work.
Are able to protect themselves from sexual abuse, violence and trafficking.
Participate in making decisions about their lives and households.
Influence their communities positively and be productive citizens.

Current position:

In Sierra Leone, there has been some progress in empowering women in recent years but still girls face serious disadvantages which prevent them from attending schools, working and leading a healthy life. Statistics give a dismal picture. Consider the following:

33% of girls of secondary school age are out of school.
The female gross enrollment rate in junior secondary school is 63%, and only 22% in senior secondary school (SSS).
More than one-quarter (28%) of adolescent women age 15-19 are already mothers or pregnant with their first child.
Eighty-five percent of married women age 15-49 were employed at any time in the past 12 months, compared with almost all (98%) married men.
Among those who are employed, men are more likely to earn cash, while more than half of women (54%) are not paid for their work.
Nearly one-third of married women do not participate in household decisions about visiting family, major household purchases, or their own healthcare.
More than 6 in 10 women (63%) and one-third of men agree that wife-beating is justified in at least one scenario. 44% of ever-married women report having been physically abused by their partners.

Challenges faced in educating girls:

There are many obstacles faced by girls which prevent them from attending school. Among these are:

Culture and norms: Perhaps the foremost reason is the belief that a girl’s place is at home and she only needs to learn to do household chores. As seen from the figures given above, women in Sierra Leone get married and have children very early. For a girl, education is seen as useless as it is not seen as playing any role in her everyday life which consists of managing her home.
Economic factors: Most families with limited resources choose to educate their sons instead of daughters.
Lack of female teachers: The fear of sexual abuse and the generally prevalent conservative thinking makes people wary of sending their daughters to schools where the staff is male.
Violence and sexual harassment: The fear that girls may face violence, sexual harassment or corporal punishment is also an important factor in deterring parents from sending their daughters to school.

How to improve the situation:

To improve access of girls to education, the following should be considered:

Costs of attending school should be lower. Preferably basic education should be free.
Parents and communities must be involved. Girls can only succeed in getting an education if they are given a favourable environment, of which their family and community is a vital part.
Schools must have more women teachers. A higher number of women teachers in schools will encourage parents to send their daughters to schools.
The school environment should be made safer and corporal punishment should be discouraged.
Curricula taught in schools must prepare girls for everyday life and employment in their country.
Sources: EPDC extraction of MICS dataset 2010, UNESCO UIS 2012, and the DHS Sierra Leone 2013

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