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Op-ed: The importance of the International Day of the Girl Child for Sierra Leone 

October 11, 2018

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Photo credited to UNICEF

Since 2012, 11 October has been marked as the International Day of the Girl, a day designated to draw global attention to the challenges that girls face and the importance of promoting their empowerment. On this day, Head of DFID Sierra Leone Mary Hunt reflects on this critical agenda.

Sierra Leone ranks 8th from the bottom (151 of 159 countries) of the global Gender Inequality Index; a composite measure reflecting education, reproductive health, political empowerment and labour market participation. This has negative implications for all Sierra Leoneans because we know that increased gender equality is correlated with more prosperous economies and stable societies.

Challenges for girls and women start during childhood. Currently 28% of girls are married, 38% have given birth and over 70% have undergone FGM before the age of 18. Maternal mortality is the second leading cause of death among 15-19 year old girls and girls are less likely to progress to secondary school than boys. This means that girls lives are being endangered. They are not gaining the knowledge and skills they need to lead a healthy and productive life and to make informed choices about when to have children

This is why UK aid has put the empowerment of girls front and centre of our work in Sierra Leone. We aim to help unlock their potential to contribute to the future prosperity and stability of the country, for the benefit of all Sierra Leoneans.

The UK has welcomed the ambitious agenda set out by the Government of Sierra Leone to address the many challenges that girls face today and to empower the girls and women of this country. We are working with them and other development partners in Sierra Leone to deliver this shared agenda.

We applaud the Government’s Free Quality Education Initiative, which by removing fees, will enable girls to stay in school for longer and gain the quality education they need in a safe environment. UK aid is funding English and maths textbooks for all secondary school students as part of the free education package. We are also working with the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education to make schools safer by putting in place a robust system for reporting and acting on cases of violence and abuse.

While we will see a growing number of girls benefiting from formal education, many girls remain out of school. That is why UK aid will support up to 30,000 of the most vulnerable out of school adolescent girls across the country over the next three years. We will provide basic literacy and numeracy, life skills education and business skills development to help girls make informed decisions about their lives, earn an income and protect themselves from early pregnancy, marriage and gender based violence.

We are also working closely with the Government to support their ambition to reduce teenage pregnancy and maternal mortality. Our support will increase the provision and availability of family planning commodities across the country alongside other basis health care drugs. We are stepping up work to increase girls’ and boys’ access to sexual and reproductive health services and commodities, and we will educate young people and their families about the importance of family planning.

We know that this work will contribute to create a more prosperous future for all Sierra Leoneans.