We support women and girls in war and crisis zones
08. October 2020 - Interview

Hannah Yambasu, Sierra Leone: “Girls shouldn’t still have to experience things like this.”

Shortly after the outbreak of the Ebola epidemic in 2014, many girls in Sierra Leone were faced with yet another crisis as a ban was introduced on pregnant girls attending school. This was justified on the grounds that they were a “bad influence” on other pupils. A group of activists took legal action against this – successfully. One of the plaintiffs was the organisation WAVES, which medica mondiale has been cooperating with since 2019. We spoke with the founder, Hannah Yambasu.

Congratulations on this success! How did it come to this court action against the exclusion of pregnant girls from school?

At the time we actually had other worries – we were busy dealing with the Ebola outbreak! But when we heard about the exclusion, we immediately knew we had to do something. So we got together with other initiatives and came to a joint decision that we would take legal action*. At the end of 2019 the court came to its judgement, and since March pregnant girls have been allowed to go to school again.

What do teenage pregnancies have to do with epidemics such as Ebola?

Sierra Leone has a high rate of teenage pregnancies in general, and during the epidemic it increased strongly. This was a result of rapes, but also because many girls lost their parents during the epidemic and landed up in situations of financial dependence. We can see these same risks during the current crisis.

How did you become a women's rights activist?

I suffered direct discrimination and violence myself. During the war (1991-2002) I worked for a range of different relief organisations – and I saw unbearable situations. Unimaginable acts were done to women and girls. I set up WAVES because I simply did not want to accept that girls still have to experience things like this!

Where do you find the strength to keep working for the benefit of women and girls?

I am very clear and open about telling people when I can do no more. I don't allow anybody else to push themselves beyond their limits, and now I can apply this to myself, too.

*For the court case at the Court of the West African Economic Community, WAVES joined together with Child Welfare Society, Defence for Children International and the American organisation Equality Now, and received advice from a law office in Kenya.

Published in memo (2020/02), p. 12 (german)


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