Sierra Leone has been in a process of rebuilding the country since a devastating civil war lasting over 10 years which ended in 2002. During the war many human rights violations took place and violence against women and girls was common. Unfortunately, Sierra Leone continues to be a country in which girls are frequently affected by gender discrimination, violence and harmful traditional practices.
88% of girls and women have undergone FGM in Sierra Leone, where the practice is legal. There is pressure on girls to undergo FGM at an early age which can in turn leads to child marriage or early sexual activity for many young girls.
Child marriage and child pregnancy are a major problem in the country, which has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Childhood pregnancy accounts for at least 40% of these deaths. Child marriage is technically illegal in Sierra Leone where law states that you cannot marry before 18, or before 16 if there is parental or equivalent consent. Yet, it has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world with 44% of girls and women married before they reach 18. There is also a huge pressure from parents on many girls living in slum areas to enter into early sexual activity as a way to earn and support the family. This is another issue that FORWARD tackles through projects with our partners in Sierra Leone.
Girl2Girl Empowerment Movement
Following the PEER research into obstetric fistula, some of the leaders of the research based in Freetown chose to set up a girls’ group network for their empowerment. FORWARD supported the establishment of the Girl2Girl Empowerment Movement in 2013 providing financial support, technical support on programme and organisation management and also funded a member of staff from the UK Sierra Leonean diaspora to provide technical support in country.
So far the project supports more than 90 girls and young women and educates them about their rights, providing leadership training so that they can carry out community awareness raising. It also increases their knowledge around sexual and reproductive health, provides a space to meet and support other girls like themselves, they have recently opened a resource centre. The movement is now a freestanding local NGO in its own right and plans to provide training for income generating activities and begin a project to tackle harmful traditional practices.
Our Past Partnerships
The Haikal Foundation is a local organisation working primarily in southern and eastern Sierra Leone to provide education and health opportunities for young people. FORWARD worked with the Haikal Foundation over 6 months providing financial support for their social reintegration programme to holistically address obstetric fistula.
We also carried out PEER research into the effect of obstetric fistula among women in Bo, Sierra Leone in partnership with the Haikal Foundation. Twenty girls from Bo and Freetown were provided with interview training so that they could approach women and girls in the community who were living with obstetric fistula. The research provided women with an opportunity to meet others in similar situations to understand they were not alone and amplify. It was used to inform the development of our project in partnership with Girl2Girl Empowerment Movement.
“In the first place I was ashamed to explain my problem to others, I only ever thought I was the only one suffering from this sickness called fistula. I thought that when I explained my problem to anyone they will gossip or back bite me but this research and workshop has made me realise that I am not alone and that there are others like me and that this process will help other women too.”
Obstetric Fistula Champion in the 2014 PEER
To learn more about the situation of women and girls in Sierra Leone, you can read about it in their own words in our research: “I used to cry a lot every night”: Voices of Women with Obstetric Fistula in Bo, Sierra Leone
Facts + Figures
Prevalence of FGM: 88% of girls and women have undergone FGM (UNICEF 2013)
Campaign against FGM: 26% of girls and women in Sierra Leone think FGM should end (UNICEF 2013)
Name of FGM: Sunna, Bondo or Sonde
Legal Status of FGM: FGM is legal
Prevalence of child marriage: 18% of girls are married by the age of 15, and 44% by the age of 18 (UNICEF 2014)
Legal status of child marriage: It is illegal to marry under the age of 18 but you can marry from 16 with parental consent
Maternal mortality: 1,100 per 100,000 live births (WHO 2013)
Gender based violence: 94% of displaced households reported sexual assault, including rape, torture and slavery during the civil war (Physicians for Human Rights 2002)
Gender Inequality Index: 183 of 187 countries (UNDP 2013)