This week, the new ruling by ECOWAS’ court created hope for pregnant school girls who have been home bound by the legislature due to the ban on pregnant school girls from school attendance. The new ruling has created new implications for Sierra Leone, other external partners and other countries with similar bans under this regional body. Last month, in a milestone ruling, a regional court held that Sierra Leone's ban on visibly pregnant girls from attending school and sitting exams is discriminatory. The Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) directed that this unfair and non-inclusive policy be revoked with immediate effect.
The ban on pregnant school girls was imposed in Sierra Leone by the former education minister in 2015. This unfortunate ban did not deter these relentless young women to continue to develop inventive ways to chase their academic goals.
Nonetheless, with the recent agreement of ECOWAS, the regional court's recent decision could modify things for Sierra Leone. The West African coalition may not have the powers to directly enforce this ruling, but factually, this rule facilitates the imposition of sanctions against non-compliant sovereignties. This important intervention will provide an advocacy tool for civil society in Sierra Leone to increase scrutiny of the establishment that imposed this non-exclusive ban against pregnant school girls.
Unfortunately, Sierra Leone is not the only African country with such a ban. According to Human Rights Watch, “Tanzanian schools routinely force girls to undergo intrusive pregnancy tests and permanently expel those who are pregnant. In 2017, the discriminatory ban affected an estimated 5,500 pregnant students, although previous estimates indicate that close to 8,000 students were forced to drop out of school. In some instances, the authorities have arrested schoolgirls for becoming pregnant. President John Magufuli has vigorously supported the ban and vowed to uphold it throughout his term.”
It is appalling that the political leaders in Africa seem to be deviating from addressing actual issues leading to child pregnancy like: sexual violence, child labor, child marriage and insurgency. Instead, they are creating policies that victimize young girls, providing more opportunities for the increased segregation and discrimination of this already disadvantaged demographic. We commend organizations like ECOWAS that are stepping-in to intervene for these young girls. We need more civil society groups to step-up to the plate and make their voices heard. We need more female representation at these seats of power to fight for the generations ahead. These kinds of discriminatory bans, laws and policies continue to limit the progress we can make as a continent to advance the in the fight for equality and female empowerment.