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 the 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.
DREAM Action to End FGM
Developing Rights-based and Empowering Approaches to Mobilise (DREAM) Action to End FGM is a four year project in Sierra Leone, in partnership with two local organisations Advocacy Movement Network (AMNET) and Girl2Girl Empowerment Movement (G2G). The project aims to build a protective environment for girls to be free from harmful traditional practices and sexual and gender based violence.
In 2016, the second year of the project:
- 1,252 girls and young women at risk of, and affected by harmful traditional practices, were reached
- 676 boys and young men were mobilised to take action to end FGM, child marriage and VAWG
- 1,900 young people became members of 59 clubs and networks established to tackle VAWG
- 54 local chiefs signed Memorandums of Understanding outlawing FGM and child marriage in their districts
- 93 community volunteers were trained to monitor the reporting of, and effective responses to, VAWG in their communities
- 2 awards were won. Our partner AMNet won a national award for Best NGO Working on FGM and Child Marriage. Our partner G2G’s Programme Coordinator won Best Advocate for Women’s Rights 2016 at the National Women’s Achievement Awards
Girl2Girl Empowerment Movement
Following PEER research funded by FORWARD 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.
Advocacy Movement Network (AMNet)
AMNet started operations in 2004, working in three strategic areas: women’s empowerment; child protection; and youth development. Their mission is to deepen right holders’ understanding about human rights and social justice as a means for them to reflect on their own lives and use their skills to make informed choices as agents of social change. AMNet has offices in three districts – Freetown, Bonthe and Kambia – but implements projects in all regions of Sierra Leone.
“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
Partnership with Haikal Foundation
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.
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)