Girls have a voice too

The Sierra Leonean society believes in a myth that girls as vulnerable, that they have no power or voice. Contrary to this myth, I have witnessed girls standing up to traditional and community leaders who wanted to disrupt their activities by controlling them within a patriarchal power structure.

Let me introduce you to what girls in a safe space in a remote community in Moyamba town are doing. The safe space consists of 26 girls who were initially brought together by a local organisation working in the area. The organisation facilitated a girls’ empowerment program with them for three years. The girls came together on a weekly basis to take part in life skills sessions, fun games and other learning activities while building a community of sisterhood and solidarity. When the project folded in 2019, the organisation handed project assets over to community stakeholders, hoping that they would support the girls to continue their activities. However, instead of supporting the girls, the stakeholders distributed the project items among themselves and evicted the girls from the rented room they were using as a safe space.

This unfortunate turn of events and outright intimidation did not stop these determined girls from meeting. Their mentor offered the veranda of her house to host their weekly meetings. The girls were delighted because they loved getting together to build and strengthen their sisterhood and solidarity. The girls were also clear on what they needed in terms of support to keep the group going. Some of their needs included a mentor/ group leader to organise and coordinate their activities, financial resources to replace their club materials and buy school supplies for some of their members, etc.

In January 2021 Purposeful revisited its approach to working and grantmaking by restructuring its efforts to include direct grantmaking with and for girls. In this regard, Purposeful piloted the Girls Collective Fund, which gave micro grants to girl groups and placed other resources directly in the hands of girls, leveraging their ability to manage their own affairs and strengthen their solidarity. The girls in Moyamba applied for the Girls Collective Fund to procure the resources they needed to keep their activities running.

The girls received the Girls Collective Fund grant and purchased school supplies, club materials for their entertainment and learning, and used the remaining funds for other club activities. When community stakeholders saw that the group was back together, they were curious and offended because they had no idea where the girls obtained support to regroup. They expected to have been informed of the idea, including where and how the girls were getting their support. They also wanted the girls to join a new NGO program that brought girls together. They had made commitments to the NGO to coordinate the girls on its behalf. The girls unanimously refused to join this new group because they already had a group that was their own, where they felt a sense of belonging.

When community stakeholders noticed that the girls were not complying with their demands, they asked them to stop meeting until they were told otherwise. The group mentor responded that “it is our right to meet, our parents pay taxes to reside in this community.” Another girl stated that, mek dem go geda den oda pikin dem dong de tong wae nor get program, we boku na dis tong “They should enrol other girls who do not have a program — there are many girls in this town.” One of the girls in this group is the daughter of the chief who also objected to the girls meeting. The chief’s daughter refused to stop coming to the safe space and was angry with her father for trying to stop their meeting. The girls told their parents that they were happy with their current group and could not leave it to join any other group.

Purposeful heard of the challenge and intervened to ensure that community stakeholders received the traditional recognition they were seeking, allowing Purposeful to continue supporting the girls and their group to independently run their safe space and strengthen their sisterhood and solidarity. Girls have opinions — if we listen and support them.

The girls in this community demonstrated that instead of subscribing to the myth that they are passive and vulnerable, we should amplify their power. They spoke up against the injustice inflicted on them and refused to be bullied by community leaders. They resisted and fought for their rights. The resistance of these girls re-enforces the power girls have and the strength in solidarity. We have learned that there is power in a collective, girls can take action to protect themselves and promote their interests when given the necessary support, and grants in the hands of girls can make a huge difference in their lives.

Written by Aminata S. Kamara, Senior Program Manager at Purposeful