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Sierra Leone: Background

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Sierra Leone continues to make progress in the transition from a humanitarian emergency to recovery and development and in consolidation of the peace that has prevailed since the signing of the peace agreement in 2002. Still, this progress coexists with significant fragility emanating from a number of factors, including security threats; accountability, transparency and corruption issues; weak administration of human rights and the rule of law; economic disempowerment of a large part of the population; and significant regional disparities, especially between rural and urban areas.

Sierra Leone remains a ‘fragile state’ with a public sector that has limited capacity and that lacks even the basic facilities to allow it to deliver adequate services to the majority of its citizens. The hopes and promises of a better life following the peace agreement do not seem to be matched by progress in basic services, employment opportunities and a well-developed infrastructure.

Youth unemployment remains one of the most pressing issues, both from a development and a peace-consolidation perspective. In Sierra Leone, youths comprise one third of the population, and two thirds of the country’s young people are unemployed.

Overall, 69 per cent of primary-school-age children are attending primary school, so special efforts will be needed for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal target on education. There are, however, positive indicators, including the development of an Education Sector Plan, as part of the Fast Track Initiative; the allocation of 20 per cent of the national budget to education; and strong political will on behalf of the Government to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in education, as well as the Education for All goals.

While gender gaps have nearly disappeared in primary education, some remain in basic, secondary and tertiary education. The Sierra Leonean Government has shown commitment to gender equality, including through establishing a Ministry on Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA). But more effort needs to be made to increase girls’ enrolment and retention in schools and influence attitudes on the importance of education for women. Also, it is worth noting that women in Sierra Leone are disadvantaged by both statutory and customary law with regard to marriage and divorce, property ownership and inheritance.

Girls’ Education Initiative

UNGEI was launched in Sierra Leone in July 2005 as the Sierra Leone Girls’ Education Network (SLeGEN).

Partners

At the national level, the partnership is led by the Gender Desk Officer in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, with the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) as the co-chair. Other partners include ActionAid, CAUSE Canada, Christian Children’s Fund, Education Reporters Association, Freetown City Council, National Reformation Council, Sierra Leone Association of University Women, Student Movement for Girls’ Education, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), World Food Programme, World Vision and Zonta Club.

Barriers to girls’ education

Major barriers to girls’ education include:

  • Poverty, which forces girls to work to raise supplementary income for the family and to take care of younger siblings.
  • A low level of female literacy.
  • Cultural practices, such as child marriage, and girls’ perceived role as a good wife and mother.
  • Costs of education to parents, both actual fees and opportunity costs.

Although the Government has introduced a policy of free primary education, there are not enough schools. And while tuition may be free, parents often find such costs as uniforms, food, transportation and books prohibitive.

UNGEI in action

The main objective of UNGEI in Sierra Leone is to monitor the implementation of programmes and ensure that progress is made within the identified priority areas of girls’ education.

Progress

The main activities of the partnership are:

  • The creation of a database.
  • A national survey on girls’ education in Sierra Leone.
  • Gender analysis of the curricula.
  • Training for teachers.
  • Sensitization.
  • Advocacy.

UNGEI within other national and international frameworks

UNGEI liaises with the Development Assistance Coordinating Office (DACO), which is implementing the country’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP).


 

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