Side event “Girls’ right to education – a West-African perspective”
Defence for Children International organized this morning a side-event to the 29th regular session of the Human Rights Council on “Girls’ right to education – a West-African perspective”. The panel discussion, sponsored by the Mission of Sierra Leone to the UN, focused on social, cultural and financial barriers to girls’ schooling in the West-African context.
H.E. Yvette Stevens, Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the UN, stated in her opening remarks that resistance to educate girls still persists in Sierra Leone, especially in poor families. She stressed the importance of creating incentives to keep girls in schools, and also mentioned the need to focus on reproductive health and ensure continuous access to education for girls with early pregnancies. In her concluding remarks, Ms. Stevens stressed the need for role models, a point that was highlighted this afternoon by High Commissioner Zeid in his opening speech at the Panel on Realizing the Equal Enjoyment of the Right to Education by Every Girl (HRC res. 27/6).
Barbara Robinson of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex later presented her report “A mountain to climb: gender-based violence and girls’ right to education in Sierra Leone” based on extensive field research conducted in collaboration with DCI-Sierra Leone. Ms Robinson stated that the importance of education is known to girls but that poverty, early marriage and pregnancy, child labour and sexual exploitation among others, remain major obstacles. The entire report is available here.
Ms Robinson’s presentation was followed by an introduction on DCI-Sierra Leone’s activities for the promotion and protection of girls’ right to education.
Presenting the Defence for Girls Initiative, Ms Hawanatu Mansaray expressed DCI-Sierra Leone’s commitment to “increase access to justice, break cultural and social barriers, empower girls and strengthen governmental institutions and community-based mechanisms”. Since its implementation, the Initiative has reached over 2’500 girls and young women, and over 10’000 indirectly, through sensitization activities, training and socio-legal support. Despite recognizing several challenges such as the difficulty to answer individual needs through collective action, Ms Mansaray remained optimistic about the results obtained so far and the opportunities created both in the short and long term. Reflecting on Ms Mansaray’s presentation, Mr Abdul Manaff Kemokai, President of DCI-Sierra Leone, discussed DCI-Sierra Leone’s advocacy efforts on girls’ rights at the community, district, national and international levels.
The fifth and last panellist to address the audience was Mr Akwasi Amankwaah, National Coordinator for Ghana NGOs Coalition on Rights of the Child (GNCRC). Mr Amankwaak noted that barriers affecting girls’ education can be found at national, regional/district and individual levels and can take the form of inadequate structures to assist girls during education, lack of training programs, stereotypes against girls or sexual violence. Mr Amankwaak explained that such obstacles can be countered, for example, by conducting training for duty bearers to understand issues on girls’ education, sharing best practices of program implementation and new knowledge, establishing mentoring programs for girls in schools or supporting boys and men to play their roles in the empowerment of girls and young women.
In the ensuing interactive session of questions and answers between the audience and the panellists, the following issues were addressed:
- The importance to involve girls in vocational training and not just formal education systems. The informal and private sectors create opportunities that should not be overlooked.
- The need to have flexible schools and universities that provide opportunities based on girls’ needs and local and regional contexts-
- The education of boys should not be overshadowed by the attention put on access to education for girls. Indeed, in Sierra Leone, dropout rates of boys have increased.
- The importance of birth registration
The full report on the side-event will be made available soon.
Joint statement on school-related gender based violence
Plan International delivered this afternoon a joint statement, prepared and signed in collaboration with Defence for Children International, Arigatou International and Save the Children, before the Human Rights Council at the occasion of the High Level Panel on Realizing the Equal Enjoyment of the Right to Education by Every Girl (HRC res. 27/6).
To read the joint statement, click here.