Subira Popenoe is a junior at Mount Holyoke College working with Sherbro Foundation this summer.
When discussing why educating girls is important, it helps to think about the long-term potential. In Sierra Leone, the problem is not so much societal opposition but rather a lack of access. Women are often faced with financial difficulties, family problems, or early marriage and motherhood. In addition, the country is still recovering from the crippling civil war which left its infrastructure years behind many other African countries. Although many more girls and women are now going to school, there is still progress to be made.
Across the continent, African women are increasingly advocating for themselves, becoming leaders in their communities, and improving their quality of life. Particularly in post-conflict societies, women have had an influential role in recovery and rebuilding. Liberia, which neighbors Sierra Leone and also experienced a civil war, already has a female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Another notable example is Rwanda, a country which has made great strides towards gender equality. After the 1994 genocide, many women had to take over for their husbands who had been killed or imprisoned. They began running coffee farms, joining the police force and the army, and becoming engineers and government ministers. In part due to quotas, nearly two-thirds of the parliament now consists of women.
Leadership itself can take many forms be it as a mother, teacher, community organizer, entrepreneur, businesswoman, or politician. Regardless, education is the key to meeting women’s potential. Educating both men and women is what will translate government policies into change at the local level. When women know their rights and abilities, along with the concrete skills needed to achieve their goals, they can help a country such as Sierra Leone develop.
For more information:
Women’s Struggle in Sierra Leone- http://www.worldpress.org/Africa/3777.cfm
Sierra Leone Women Struggle for Political Role- http://www.voanews.com/content/sierra-leone-women-struggle-for-political-role/1554869.html
Rwanda: A revolution in rights for women- http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/may/28/womens-rights-rwanda
Rwanda’s women make strides towards equality 20 years after the genocide- http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/apr/07/rwanda-women-empowered-impoverished
Twenty years after the genocide, Rwandan women bring the country back to life- http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2014/04/08/twenty-years-after-the-genocide-rwandan-women-bring-the-country-back-to-life/
Rwanda: The Land of Gender Equality?- http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2014/04/08/twenty-years-after-the-genocide-rwandan-women-bring-the-country-back-to-life/
The Role of Women in Reconstruction: Experience of Rwanda- http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/SHS/pdf/Role-Women-Rwanda.pdf