In Ireland, International Women’s Day 2018 comes in the year we celebrate the centenary of women’s right to vote. In Sierra Leone, we are working to help women vote and become elected, and to help young girls stay in education.
In many places Trócaire works, women are still struggling to be heard and fighting for their place at the parliamentary table.
Sierra Leone is conducting Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Elections this week. These are the fourth cycle of elections since the Civil War.
Trócaire is hoping that the 100 hundred female candidates supported by Trócaire and its local partner organisations over the past 5 years will be elected.
Dora (pictured above) is one of many women who learned how to vote in the this week's elections, thanks to training given by Trócaire's local partner organisations.
Supporting women’s political participation and programmes focusing on women’s empowerment have been a strong pillar of our work in Sierra Leone since the 1980s.
Women in Sierra Leone face many challenges in accessing basic education. On average girls only receive two years of education with many dropping out after becoming pregnant.
Sierra Leone has the tenth highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the world and although the law prohibits marriages for children under the age of 18, 39% of girls are still married before then.
Essentially men run families and communities and women are expected to comply. Women have very little input and rarely make decisions about family life and welfare, finances and even their children’s education.
These challenges will have to be overcome by young girls like Rugiatu (9) from the Kambia District in the north of the country. Rugiatu has already faced huge upheaval in her life. Her mother died in the Ebola outbreak of 2014 and she and her two brothers now live with their aunt, Dora.
Dora knows that an education for the children, particularly Rugiatu, is something she must strive towards. Annual school fees for an average size family are around €55 but when you live in an area where most are struggling to maintain a reliable source of food and income, this is a lot of money. So feeding a family and keeping them in school is a really big challenge.
Dora did not receive an education but she is clever and works hard to provide for her children. Dora’s hopes are for her children including her niece to be educated.
She said, “Rugiatu wants to be a teacher and I want to help her to learn. I always advise her that if you want to be a teacher you must concentrate on your studies. I really want her to be properly educated.”
One of the local organisations that Trócaire works with, Access to Justice Law Centre (AJLC), focuses on girls right to education.
This is done through after-school drama clubs which address community attitudes to education for girls, child marriage, teenage pregnancy and violence against women. The schools drama clubs then take their plays to the community to raise awareness and influence the attitudes of chiefs, religious leaders and parents.
Zia from AJLC said: "These girls were excluded in terms of decision making. But this group has helped both boys and girls to see the possibility of a different way forward. The club has helped the community to see the importance of shared decision making, to involve these children in terms of making decisions about themselves and their future."
In #SierraLeone girls commonly drop out of primary school, and 39% of girls are married before they turn 18. With your support, we are helping girls to stay in school. #IWD2018 #InternationalWomensDay pic.twitter.com/E4KJ7Tt4Zs
— Trócaire (@trocaire) March 9, 2018
Dora added: “I hear Rugiatu telling her friends ‘I will listen to my aunt’s advice and I will go to school and learn to become a teacher. I want to become a big person in the community.”
With the continuing support of Trócaire and local organisations like AJLC there is a very real chance that Rugiatu and other girls like her will become just that – the next generation of leaders.