Girl champions engage Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs on protection
L-R: Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs, Hon. Manti Tarawalli speaks with Save the Children Girl Champions about protection systems for women and girls; Salmata Davies top right and Salamatu Sesay bottom. Photo: Abdul Sillah, Save the Children
On Friday 30th October 2020, two girl champions, engaged the Minister of Gender and Children Affairs Honorable Manti Tarawalli to talk about issues affecting girls in their communities. As champions who have daily engagements with peers, Salmata Davies and Salamatu Sesay know too well the barriers girls face and were happy to present some of their observations to minister in an effort to advocate for policy strengthening and change to make their communities and Sierra Leone a safer place for girls.
Health and education: the right of every girl child
In her statement, Salmata Davies from Aberdeen told minister that she conducted a small survey in her community with peers to find out what issues affected them the most. The two things that came out of her conversations with girls were education and health. Some girls attributed low school completion rates to extra fees being charged by teachers in schools despite the Free Quality School Education initiative, while others blamed teenage pregnancy and domestic chores as contributors to low retention rates.
On health, she acknowledged that some strides have been made by government however, girls still face challenges when it comes to family planning. In her community health services are not adolescent friendly. What seriously affects uptake is the lack of health worker confidentiality.
“When you go for contraceptives the nurse would be the first to tell neighbors that you have started having sex and that reduces the girl’s confidence to go back to the health clinic. Some nurses would inform the girl’s parents and neighbors. That affects us a lot in our community,”
Honorable Tarawalli acknowledged these concerns by assuring Salmata that her ministry is currently working on policies to address issues affecting their retention in school. She promised to follow up on the issue of extra fees charged by teachers “because if it is happening in Freetown, it could be happening everywhere in the country.”
On the issue of health worker's confidentiality, she agreed with Salmata’s advice on better training for health workers to be more sensitive to the needs of adolescents when it comes to family planning.
“I am 100% for girls’ having access to family planning if they need it to avoid unwanted pregnancies…”
There should be no compromise for rape and sexual abuse
Salamatu Sesay from Susan’s Bay spoke on the silence and compromise in her community when it comes to rape and sexual abuse of girls.
'If someone rapes or sexually abuses a child and that child ends up pregnant, the family and community will compromise by forcing the girl into early marriage. This means they have little or no chance of returning to school again.”
The minister revealed that there are new initiatives in the pipeline to tackle these dangers to girls; one is a parenting strategy to train parents on how to take care of their children. There are also district steering committees being out in place to review sexual offence cases in every district.
Ministry plans for 2021
By 2021 the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs plans to identify girls that are most at risk of dropping out of school to work with their families by providing the necessary support the family needs to keep them in school.
“Until we are able to catch children at a point of difficulty we will not be able to make a change in their lives. Because we can do all the monitoring, we can do all the sensitization, we can talk about everything with parents but if we don’t catch them at that point where they need support to say ‘no you are not going to drop out of school and ask them ‘what support do you need to continue school?’ we would not be able to change that girl’s life. This is what we want to do starting from next year.”
The virtual conversation with the girl champions was hailed by minister as a fruitful engagement which has urged her to organize a bigger meeting where she would invite girls from various communities to meet and talk frankly with her about their issues as well as come up with solutions to SGBV ssues leading to a positive change for girls.