Case Study: How Gender Discrimination exists in Liberian Schools

By Zeowheh V. Saywrayne- Sumo BCC Officer – Medica Liberia

Education is cardinal to the growth and development of a nation.  Following the civil war in Liberia, challenges in achieving education were enormous. The stakes were especially high for girls as early marriage, Sexual Gender-based Violence (SGBV), and other factors would hamper girls’ education.

According to a UNFPA-Liberia, 2021 Report, teenage pregnancy contributes significantly to dropout rates among school going girls. It is estimated that in Liberia, 67 percent of adolescent girls with no education are mothers, compared to 17 percent of those with secondary and higher education.

This article highlights a recent incident brought to the attention of medica Liberia, the Liberia Feminist Forum, and other Women Rights Organizations, in June 2021, by parents of adolescent girls who were expelled from school without their (parents) consent. The female students, who included students of the 12th grade, were expelled from the School because, their pregnancy test results were positive. As a result, they were not going to be allowed to sit their school’s final exams and the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).

Also, on June 17, 2021- a Facebook post by Martin KN Kollie, a student activist, captioned, “Booker Washington Institute (BWI) Suspends 11 female students after tested Positive of Pregnancy.” The post displayed a letter written by the school on June 15, 2021, which stated that the decision to suspend the girls was taken “in compliance with article 7 of the Booker T. Washington Institute’s Student handbook”.

Another incident in July 2012, an online news outlet, Inter Press Agency, reported that 2 students were expelled from the St Mark Lutheran High School in Bong County. Students Janet Kayne and Mary Johnson (not their real names) were dismissed because the school found out that they were pregnant.  The school’s authority claimed that it is against the school’s handbook to keep pregnant girls in their school.

The incidents cited above are clearly in violation  to several international laws and policies that speak about non – discrimination in education, such as; the ‘2006 Policy on Girls’ Education,’ revised in 2013, ([1] UNFPA-Liberia   Adolescent & Youth,  May 2021 Publication June 21, 2021 Facebook Post: Booker Washington Institute Suspends 11 Female Student- by Martin K.N Kollie) which intends to improve girls’ and women’s access to vocational training, science, technology, and continuing education to provide them with adequate labor market skills.

Also, the 2011 Education Reform Act of Liberia aims to increase scholarships for girls and sets as a specific objective the “promotion of gender equity and equality throughout the education system.”

This is reinforced by provisions and policies such as the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda (SDG), adopted by the UN member states in 2015, which recognizes that “gender equality is linked to the “right to education”., as well as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and the right to education “Promotes the enrollment and retention of girls in schools”…

Despite these efforts made in promoting women and girls’ access to education, girls continue to face discrimination. While there are positive steps by some African countries to uphold the laws on girls’ education, a number of countries still impose laws and policies that directly discriminate against pregnant girls,.” For example, Equatorial Guinea, and Tanzania, including Liberia, expelled pregnant girls from schools and denied them the right to study, clearly because there is “no direct policy on the protection of pregnant girls.

In most cases, such practice ends a girl’s chances of ever going back to school. This also results in employment and productive disadvantages while making them vulnerable to poverty, violence, crime, child marriage, and other forms of abuse.

It is very important to address the discrimination against girls and ensure they have equal opportunities like their male counterparts. When girls have access to education, they develop the knowledge, confidence, and life skills necessary to navigate and adapt to an ever-changing world. The education of girls not only helps them achieve their individual potential, but also helps to break intergenerational cycles of poverty.

Quite recently, there was a landmark judgment of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice (ECCJ) against the Republic of Sierra Leone (Women Against Violence and Exploitation v Sierra Leone [2019] ECW/CCJ/JUD/37/19) for banning pregnant school girls from mainstream school after the Ebola crisis. The Court has made it exceedingly clear that pregnant girls cannot be denied equal access to education. The Court mandates that policies on pregnant school girls’ education provide best interest alternatives that ensure equal opportunities to further their education while pregnant.  As an ECOWAS state, Liberia needs to consider this judgment and all other policies to protect pregnant schoolgirls.[1]

What Have We Learned?

As a signatory to several international and regional instruments, Liberia has the legal obligation to provide “all children” with an education, without discrimination.  Liberia joined other countries in adopting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a development agenda whose focus is to ensure that “no one is left behind,” including a promise to ensure inclusive and quality education for all.[2]

Liberia as a member of the AU, has adopted ambitious goals to end child marriage, introduce comprehensive sexuality and reproductive health education in schools. Liberia is also obligated to address the very high rates of teenage pregnancy that negatively affect girls’ education, as well as make human rights commitments to protect girls’ right to education. It will fail in this promise if it continues to exclude thousands of girls from education because they are pregnant.

The ECOWAS court verdict has demonstrated to policymakers that they have a duty to follow policies and international laws that uphold the right to education without discrimination as well as put in place measures that protect adolescent girls from any form of discrimination in school.

Therefore, As we commemorate the 16 days of Activism to End Violence Against Women & Girls, medica Liberia recommends to all stakeholders an immediate end to discrimination in schools in policy practice;

Schools:

  • End, in policy and practice, the expulsion of female students who become pregnant and provide accommodations for pregnant students in schools;
  • Immediately end pregnancy testing in schools;
  • Provide school-based counseling services for pregnant students. Provide long-term psychosocial support to adolescent survivors of sexual abuse and harassment;
  • Engage with teachers and other education officials to support pregnant girls’ education and ensure they guarantee a safe school environment;

Civil Society:

  • Provide access to information to parents, guardians, and community leaders about the harmful physical, educational, and psychological effects of adolescent pregnancy and the importance of pregnant girls continuing with school;

Government:

  • That the government of Liberia investigates claims of such practices in schools in Liberia, through inclusion of existing structures in schools;
  • ensure that boys and girls have equal access to good-quality education, equal rights and opportunities to successfully complete schooling and in making educational choices;
  • Link pregnant students to health services, such as family planning;
  • enact legislation that makes provision for the right to education, throughout the life cycle for all girls and women, including all disadvantaged groups of women and girls;
  • The government of Liberia should commit to obligations provided in national and international legal frameworks listed above by creating clear guidelines and policies on the non-discrimination of girls who become pregnant while in school;
  • Integrate age appropriate education on women’s human rights and the CEDAW Convention in school curricula at all levels;[3]

medica Liberia (mL) formerly medica mondiale, Liberia is a non-governmental women’s right organization working in Liberia. medica Liberia works mainly with survivors of gender based violence. As part of our core mandate we deal with women and girls affected by gender based violence. A key component of our work is providing direct services to survivors of Sexual Gender Based Violence SGBV. Our work cuts across our operational communities in four counties, including Sinoe, Grand Gedeh, Margibi and Montserrado Counties.

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About Cholo Brooks 16091 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.

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