|© Danielle Botti/UNICEF|
|During Girls' Education Week, Fatmata Musa Kula Sowa, 12, addresses the Speaker of Parliament in Sierra Leone, with First Lady Sia Nyama Koroma in attendance.|
By Danielle Botti
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 1 November 2010 – Fatmata Musa Kula Sowa, 12, a high school student from southern Sierra Leone, recently made a journey to the nation’s capital, Freetown, in order to help promote Girls’ Education Week.
Along with more than 75 other female students, she presented a petition to the Speaker of Parliament and a cross-section of parliamentarians calling for stricter legislation in support of girls’ education.
Addressing the Speaker of the House of Parliament, Fatmata spoke directly. The UN Millennium Development Goals deadline of 2015 “is around the corner,” she said. “Every country will have a report card. If you work hard, you will get good grades. If you don’t work hard, then you will fail. We need to start working hard now.”
First Lady lends support
Girls in Sierra Leone face a multitude of barriers to education, including high rates of early marriage, teenage pregnancy, extra fees, lack of proper parental guidance and sexual exploitation in schools. This year’s Girls’ Education Week encouraged people to invest in educating girls and ridding schools of sexual abuse and exploitation.
|© Danielle Botti/UNICEF|
|Participants in Girls’ Education Week 2010 in Sierra Leone advocate for greater investment in educating girls and ridding schools of sexual abuse and exploitation.|
Leading the children on their march to the Parliament was none other than Sierra Leone’s First Lady, Sia Nyama Koroma. “There is an urgent need for a concerted effort, unwavering commitment and investment to ensure that all girls have access to free education – where they can be innovative and thrive,” said Mrs. Koroma.
Representatives were chosen from schools in each of Sierra Leone’s four provinces to present their specific challenges. The students made a strong call for increased national budget allocation, ratification and implementation of the Sexual Offences Act, and enforcement of the Child Rights Act of 2007 to ensure the protection of their rights and dignity.
Investing in girls’ education
“It is a proven fact that the more educated a woman is, the better she can take care of her children,” said UNICEF Representative in Sierra Leone Mahimbo Mdoe. “If there is to be any gain in addressing some of key MDGs – such as universal access to primary education, gender parity, reducing child mortality, and improving maternal health – there has to be sustained investment in girls’ education.”
In his response to the girls’ petition, the Speaker of Parliament, Justice Abel Strong, acknowledged that the community and weakened family structures were failing children. He made an urgent call to parents to provide moral, emotional and educational support to the next generation. Mr. Strong also pledged to support the girls’ petition and said he would welcome an assessment of progress on these issues in one year.
The petition was one of several activities organized by UNICEF and the Government of Sierra Leone to celebrate Girls Education Week from 17 through 23 October. There were recognition and award ceremonies at schools in all of Sierra Leone’s provinces to commend exceptional results in advancing girls’ education. UNICEF is a strong, longtime supporter of the government’s initiatives on girls’ education in Sierra Leone.