At the end of March, a 10 year ban preventing pregnant girls from attending school and accessing education was lifted in Sierra Leone. This is a fantastic step in the direction of gender equality across the country. The decision followed a judgement in December 2019 that demanded the ban be overturned immediately for failing girls’ basic human rights.
Under the ban, pregnant girls were not allowed to sit in classrooms or complete exams as they were seen as a ‘bad influence’ on their peers. Instead, they were put in alternative schools for young mothers. These schools taught a reduced and limited curriculum which had a detrimental impact on the education of the girls. The December judgement ruled that, in banning girls from mainstream schools and limiting their education to these sub-par alternatives, the government of Sierra Leone failed in its duty to provide education for all. Sierra Leone’s education ministry stated: “Overturning the ban is the first step in building a radically inclusive Sierra Leone where all children – regardless of class, ethnicity, tribe, disability, location, gender, reproductive or parenting status – are able to live and learn in safety and dignity.”
This is undoubtedly a brilliant and important result. Yet, given the current Coronavirus pandemic, some are concerned that girls will see little benefit, as schools are expected to close as part of the country’s efforts to tackle the virus. During the Ebola outbreak, thousands of girls were left vulnerable by the closures of school; this resulted in a rise in young pregnancies across Sierra Leone. With limited access to schools and medical services during quarantine, Sierra Leone’s girls will be at risk. Equality Now, one of the organisations who were involved in lifting the ban, have demanded that governments across Africa do more to protect girls during this time.
However, despite the pause in progress that Coronavirus may have on Sierra Leone’s education, the lift of the school ban is a significant historical win for human rights. Girls will no longer be educationally disadvantaged or discriminated against during their pregnancy, a period when education and support is absolutely integral.
Girl Museum Inc.