Young women and Education
JartuTutu, 23 years old, is a member of the Tarkpoima Girls Forum situated in Tarkpoima Town in Gbarma District, Gbarpolu County. The forum was established in 2015 through a SIDA-funded project, “Enhancing the Rights of Women and Girls and other Marginalized groups” (EPR).
At the age of 17, Jartu got pregnant and dropped out of school. Despite the Liberian education policy allowing girls and women to learn while they are pregnant, most high school girls feel embarrassed and stigmatized when pregnant and as result, they tend to drop out of school. As such, Jartu initially felt that all hope for her education had been lost. She pointed out that she felt too old to go back and continue with school.
Girls’ Forums are community structures that provide a platform and space for young women and girls below the age of 35 years to meet, discuss and share ideas on how they can participate and contribute to the protection and promotion of their rights. The forums were established by ActionAid and its partner, Domafeign, as a way of ensuring the participation of girls in their local issues. In addition, they promote peer-to-peer learning which is vital for promoting shared knowledge and ideas. Domafeign also provides mentoring and coaching for girls in the forum in addition to training on life skills, women's rights, and sexual and reproductive health and rights.
When Jartu joined the Girls Forum, it provided an opportunity for her to learn about how sexual and reproductive health issues and services available in the community. Through the forum, Jartu decided to enroll back in school. Her decision to go back to school also encouraged other girls in the community who also decided to go back to school even if they had already nursing young mothers. Knowledge and awareness of SRHR and women’s rights helped the girls to build the confidence they felt they needed to resume their studies and take on leadership opportunities in their communities. The Tarkpoima Girls Forum is now carrying out awareness-raising on SRHR, SGBV, and girls’ education in their school and neighboring communities.
Ever since I became part of the forum I started to learn a lot about to human and women's rights. The community leaders, (older and men within our community) now understand that we have rights to participate in community meetings. We now educate them on SRHR and human rights which has reduced SGBV and other forms of violence that had been normalized in Tarkpoima”.
As part of their outreach, the Girls’ Forum has noted that high SGBV cases are from mining communities. The forum is mobilizing their peers – boys and girls - to address this challenge.
Gbarma District is located close to artisanal mining camps. Most young people including girls migrate to these camps in search of livelihood opportunities. While young women are not in artisanal mining, they are involved in selling a variety of items mostly food and consumables. However, many girls have reported experiencing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) or contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs). For boys engaged in illegal gold or diamond panning, incidences of substance and drug abuse, as well as violence, are also high. The mining areas have also sadly experienced a lot of statutory rape cases which have often gone unreported.
The rate of teenage pregnancy and girls dropout from mining communities was on the increase, through this project, more of my friends including boys are now aware of safe sex practices as well as demanding their rights to fight Sexual and Gender Based Violence. As girls of Tarkpoima, we learnt a lot about ourselves, our rights and responsibilities. We have had time to sit as peers and deliberate on the issues affecting us especially on the unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted dieses and, economic violence that many of us are faced with, and the [negative impact of mining] that is dropping out of school as a result of pregnancy”, said Jartu.
Jartu is currently doing Grade 11 at Tarkpoima High School. She hopes to be a social worker so she can have the opportunity to help young girls to demand SRH services and rights to safeguard their future.
ActionAid continues to support women, girls, and other vulnerable groups in accessing SRHR services and information.