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In Liberia, communities are delivering better health and sexual education for empowered adolescent girls

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In Liberia, communities are delivering better health and sexual education for empowered adolescent girls In Liberia, communities are delivering better health and sexual education for empowered adolescent girls

A few months ago, during a trip to Liberia, I had the opportunity to meet a remarkable young woman named Victoria – a youth advocate who is helping to ensure comprehensive sexual education for girls and access to family planning. Victoria became a powerful activist in her community following the pregnancy of one of her closest friends at the age of 14. 

When her friend became pregnant, she needed to drop out of school and find work to support her daughter. Victoria became concerned for her friend’s wellbeing and future and wanted to make sure that she still had the same opportunities to realize her full potential. 

Many adolescent girls in Liberia continue to experience pregnancy, especially those living in poorer communities with limited access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Estimates show that one in seven girls in Liberia give birth before the age of 18. This has major health and social implications. High risk pregnancies significantly contribute to the already high maternal mortality rate in a country with a health system still recovering from the impacts of Ebola and COVID. Unmarried pregnant girls or young mothers often face stigmatization and are at a higher risk of experiencing sexual and gender-based violence within the school environment.

Changing the trajectory 

The government of Liberia has been leading numerous efforts to lower the rate of adolescent pregnancies and ensure girls have equal opportunities, working within and beyond the health sector. 

In fact, a health project supported by the World Bank and the Global Financing Facility (GFF) is bringing together the health and education sectors to reach more girls in schools with information on sexual and reproductive health. For example, the projects are building the capacity of female school counselors to address issues associated with gender-based violence and adolescent pregnancy. 

Through these efforts, adolescent girls can now access counsellors in schools. Around 160 female counsellors have been deployed and integrated into Liberia’s school system – which has a low number of female teachers – to help girls access sexual and reproductive health services and information, understand their bodily rights, and make informed choices about their future.

At the same time, these efforts are linked to a social sustainability and inclusion project that promotes positive social attitudes towards girls' health and education within communities. 

By collaborating across sectors and leveraging the power of partnerships, the goal is to create a comprehensive solution to address the health and social aspects of girls’ well-being. In turn, this will help Liberia achieve more sustainable outcomes. 

Supporting community-led efforts to deliver the future

Engaging community-based organizations in this process has been critical as these groups can effectively address cultural practices that discriminate against girls, help expand access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, raise awareness about gender equality, and promote positive role models for girls to aspire to. 

Victoria’s organization - Rescue Our People – is a small but mighty entity part of this holistic solution that is already having an impact on the lives of adolescents in the community. With support from the health project, Victoria founded the "Big Bele" club which advises young people on family planning, using theater and media to share information on their bodily autonomy and rights.

"The more I do this work, the more I realize that the best way to reach out to communities is through people like us that are part of the community," she says. "We advise pregnant girls to seek care because most of them are too ashamed to go to the health facilities….so we bring nurses to their homes or support them to go to the clinic.

Victoria also speaks with girls about the importance of going back to school, completing their education, and gaining the right skills to find jobs. This is offering many girls hope of what’s possible.

Now, Victoria’s friend, Candy, who had become pregnant at a young age has managed to go back to school to finish her studies. Feeling more empowered, she also became an advocate herself. 

"Now I know what bodily autonomy is and I can pass that knowledge to other girls. I am also back in school. I am determined to complete my education so I can be an example for my daughter and all young girls in Liberia who want to believe in their dreams and their future," she says.


Amaka Momah-Haruna

Girl and Women’s Empowerment (GWE) Senior Specialist

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