In 2016, Sierra Leone was ranked in the 10 worst countries to be a girl in terms of gender inequality. Girls in Sierra Leone face child marriage, early pregnancy, gender-based violence and are far less likely than boys to go to school. In fact, 46% of girls and young women aged 15-24 do not know how to read and write in Sierra Leone.
Yet education has the power to transform lives, especially for girls. When girls and women are educated, it benefits their families, their communities and their countries. Girls who go to secondary school earn more, have fewer and healthier children and are more likely to send their own children to school (World Bank).
On International Day of the Girl Child we must stand up for girls' rights to education. Girls like 16 year old Aminata.
Aminata dropped out of school when she lost her sister to Ebola. Desperate, she slept with a man for money and fell pregnant. With no money and nowhere to live she was forced to pick plastic on the local rubbish dump to sell. Going to school was a distant dream.
Sadly, Aminata's story is a common one amongst girls in Sierra Leone. Teenage pregnancy, loss of a caregiver and poverty are the three most common barriers to a girl's education. In households with very limited incomes, education for girls is not a priority.
But education for girls should be a priority. Evidence shows that even a single year of secondary education has the potential to increase a girl's future earnings by up to 25%.
NGO Street Child is working to help thousands of girls across Sierra Leone and Liberia to access education thanks to its Girls Speak Out appeal, which was supported by the UK government. Already they have supported over 4,000 girls with education materials so they can go to school and provided 2,500 families with business grants and training so they can set up a business.
Aminata is just one of those who Street Child have supported back to school. A Street Child social worker reunited Aminata with a caregiver. Street Child have supported her caregiver to set up a business so she can afford the costs of sending Aminata to school long-term.
'I have more hope for the future because when I've finished my schooling I will become a prominent individual... I want to become a nurse.'
'My hope for my baby is that she will get to go to school and also be prominent when she grows up.'
International Day of the Girl Child is about standing with girls like Aminata. Her hopes should be a reality for all girls in Sierra Leone and around the world. We must keep striving to empower all women and girls, because progress for them means progress for everyone.
Street Child is an NGO working in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nepal and Nigeria. Street Child's 'Girls Speak Out' Appeal was match-funded by the UK government and is helping 20,000 children - especially girls - to go to school in post-Ebola West Africa.
Find out more about the work of Street Child, click here