Isatu is inspiring girls and young mothers

In Sierra Leone there are so many teenage mothers that nobody bats an eyelid when a 15-year-old girl becomes pregnant. Single-minded Isatu (20), is standing up for their rights and trying to convince them not to give up hope.

Don’t ask journalist Isatu what she thinks of the position of girls and young women in her country if you aren’t prepared to be on the receiving end of an impassioned argument that could inspire even the hardest of cynics. “Yes, I am passionate about the rights of young women,” concedes the self-proclaimed feminist from Freetown, Sierra Leone, “especially school leavers, pregnant girls, teenage mothers and prostitutes. I want to change their lives by changing their mindset.”

Safe place

She intends to erect a platform on which these 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. I can then help them think about picking up the strings 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 just one of the young women participating in a training course given by the Girls Advocacy Alliance, a collaboration between Plan International Nederland, Defence for Children − ECPAT and Terre des Hommes. In Sierra Leone they are fighting against things that include child marriage, female circumcision, sexual violence and teenage pregnancies. She is acquiring knowledge that is strengthening her ability to lobby for the improvement of the position of girls and young women.

Radio reporter

It cannot be said that Isatu, who is from a simple family that supports her fighting spirit, lacks experience as a lobbyist and activist. For example, she is chairperson of a network group, Mirror Africa, an organisation that also champions the rights of girls and young women. Furthermore, as a reporter for a radio station for young people, she is well positioned to influence the hot topics in her own community.

Isatu’s main objectives are to reduce the high number of teenage pregnancies and child marriages in Sierra Leone. Moreover, she also wants girls to be given the same opportunities and treatment as boys. “Girls must be allowed to decide about their own future, given equal rights and no longer be discriminated against.” 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. But the boy was taken on because it was just assumed that a girl would be too weak.”

Hijab-wearing feminist

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 jobs market. She does occasionally encounter resistance. “People sometimes don’t understand how someone wearing a hijab can be a feminist. 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.”