In Sierra Leone, there are so many teenage mothers that nobody bats an eyelid when a 15-year-old girl becomes pregnant. But 20-year-old Isatu is standing up for their rights and trying to convince them not to give up hope.
Isatu’s impassioned argument could inspire even the hardest of cynics.
“Yes, I am passionate about the rights of young women,” says the journalist and self-proclaimed feminist from Freetown, Sierra Leone. “Especially school leavers, pregnant girls, teenage mothers, and sex workers. I want to change their lives by changing their mindset.”
Creating safe spaces
Isatu intends to build a safe space where vulnerable girls can come together to share the problems they are experiencing at home, at school, or in their communities.
“Thanks to the safety of this platform, they’ll be able to say what’s bothering them,” she said. “I can then help them pick up the pieces of their life again and convince them that there is still hope. Becoming a teenage mother doesn’t have to mean that your life has suddenly lost all value. No way! These girls have to believe in themselves and be strong. However bad your problems may seem, there is light at the end of every tunnel.”
Isatu is one of the young women participating in a training course run by the Girls Advocacy Alliance, a collaboration between Plan International, Defence for Children ECPAT, and Terre des Hommes. The group fights for girls’ rights and against issues that restrict girls’ lives and freedom including child marriage, female genital mutilation, sexual violence, and teenage pregnancies.
Isatu is chairperson of the network group, Mirror Africa, an organization that champions the rights of girls and young women. In addition, as a reporter for a radio station for young people, she is well positioned to influence hot topics in her own community.
“Girls must be allowed to decide their own future, given equal rights, and no longer be discriminated against,” she said.
She relates an event that both illustrates what she means and makes her very angry.
“Two friends of mine, a boy and a girl, graduated from the same university and then applied for the same job,” she said. “But the boy was taken on because it was just assumed that a girl would be too weak.”
Together with other young people in her network group, Isatu regularly goes door-to-door, making people aware of the importance of education for girls so they receive a fair chance in the job market.
Occasionally, she encounters resistance.
“People sometimes don’t understand how someone wearing a hijab can be a feminist,” she said. “They’ll ask me how I reconcile my conviction that the role of young women must be strengthened, with Islam’s teachings that girls should be married off as soon as they start menstruating. My response is to explain that, in addition to my faith, I also have a dream and a purpose in life. I want to show other girls that they too can make something of their lives.”