A Profound Victory for Sierra Leone’s Girls Movement: The Ban on Pregnant Girls is Overturned!

Today the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, with the full backing of His Excellency President Julius Bio and his esteemed Cabinet, officially overturned the ban on pregnant girls attending school. We heartily commend the president, his Cabinet, and especially the newly appointed Honorable Minister Dr David Sengeh, for their courage and leadership. We look forward to working with them and other members of the inter-agency taskforce to develop a Radically Inclusive education policy for all the children of Sierra Leone. Today is a victory for a coalition of advocates and activists from across our country who first shone a spotlight on this issue over half a decade ago. As our campaign gained momentum over the years, an ever growing movement of grass-roots organisations, feminist legal experts, educationalists and girl activists stood firm and tall to proclaim this ban illogical, immoral and unconstitutional. Today’s victory shows, beyond a doubt, the power of citizens organising to change the world for girls and us all. As a feminist hub for Sierra Leone’s girls movement, we have always understood this ban to be part of an interlocking web of violations against adolescent girls. Rather than a fringe issue, the scale of teenage pregnancy rates in Sierra Leone means that up to 25% of all adolescent girls in the country have been excluded from school as a result of the policy. For us, the ban quickly became a visceral symbol of a culture that simultaneously extracts from girls bodies, keeps them away from the services that could save them, and then punishes them for the inevitable pregnancy that follows. Many supporters of this draconian policy have argued that to allow pregnant girls into school is to submit to an imposed western morality. We know, however, that it has always been the local communities who have witnessed the detrimental effects of the ban who have shown the greatest leadership in having it overturned. When the world was indifferent, they pushed back, they organised, and they defied. Today we honour those girls, teachers, parents and community leaders in every corner of the country who showed us all that another way is possible. Today we also take a moment to honour the generation of girls shut out and abandoned by this draconian policy – the impacts of which will be felt for many more years to come. To these girls, and to the children they mother, we say: we are sorry, we see you, and we will continue to fight with and for you.