Fear of failure can, and does, prevent action. But action, not words, is what we need. Since being in office, my team has taken a range of actions to promote gender equality and prevent violence in and through education because I believe that if violence can be learned, and it can also be unlearned.
I have been at the ‘Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Ministerial Conference’ this week, hosted by the UK government, speaking about the role education has to transform our world. Sustainable investment in equitable transformative education will prevent violence and promote peace. It is an essential ingredient to tackling sexual violence and transforming harmful gender and social norms.
In Sierra Leone we are taking action now. The reality is that simple policies can transform societies:
- We have banned corporal punishment in schools.
- We have developed and rolled out a guide to reducing violence at the school level. Teachers are central to this.
- We have developed a national pathway to justice for survivors of violence in and around schools.
- We have enacted a national policy on radical inclusion in schools.
And this is still not enough. We are developing the Comprehensive School Safety Policy and are working to scale up programs and plans to make sure every child in a school uniform is safe to learn.
At the PSVI conference, I had the opportunity to meet with friends, partners and colleagues to discuss ways to mobilize more action. One way this is happening is through signing the Freetown Manifesto, developed in 2022 by partners including UNGEI, UNESCO and the Global Partnership for Education. The purpose of the manifesto is to build momentum for gender equality in and through education.
We are thrilled the UK government signed up during the conference and I call on all governments, organizations and individuals to sign up today to enable us to come together in this movement.
Another way was through announcing myself as a political champion for Safe to Learn, a global partnership convening countries and organizations who are as committed as I am to ending all forms of violence in, around and through schools.
At the conference there was recognition that children’s access to safe, inclusive and gender transformative education can prevent the systemic social norms that enable violence to happen, and to be exaggerated in times of conflict.
Schools have often been a safe haven from violence. They are more than that. They are a place where ideas develop to make sure the safe haven is not just the school but that it grows and expands across the community and country. The seeds of peace are sown in our classrooms.
Timing is critical when it comes to achieving change. It was clear at the conference that not enough has been done at the global level over the last 10 years to achieve real change.
This time it must be different. We need change now. We need it not just for the survivors who explained so powerfully not just why, but how violence can be prevented. We need it for every child who will wake up tomorrow, put on their school uniform and who should never have to experience the fear and violence so many before them have experienced.