We spoke to Kadi Jumu, Director of Advocacy and Communications in our office in Sierra Leone to tell us about their association with the First Lady and how her association is working to achieve our campaign goal in Sierra Leone. Read on...

  1. Why have you decided to work with the First Lady as a champion nationally and in the region?

Since her husband came into power in 2007, the First Lady of Sierra Leone has championed women and girls rights issues and is a strong advocate for ending child marriage in Sierra Leone.  On a yearly basis she has organised girl camps, initiated programmes around adolescent, sexual and reproductive health and specifically advocated to reduce teenage pregnancy and end child marriage.

This is the first time Sierra Leone has created an office for the First Lady, giving her the space to initiate her own programmes.  As such, Save the Children took the initiative to work closely with her, since there was a strong alignment in the campaign initiatives.  While the First Lady herself does not have the power to make decision, she is closely tied to those who do and has the ability to mobilise and build relationships with the public, development partners and other key stakeholders.

During the last Organisation of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) meeting in Accra, she was asked by the chair of OAFLA to lead the regional campaign on ending child marriage.  She has since initiated a proposition to organise a high level meeting on this, with the help of Save the Children and other development partners.

  1. Why is the campaign in Sierra Leone focusing on child mothers and how does this link to the campaign on ending child marriage?

Africa has the world’s highest rates of adolescent pregnancy, a factor that affects the health, education, and earning potential of millions of African girls, according to a report released last month by the United Nations Population Fund. When a girl becomes pregnant or becomes a young mother, her health, education, earning potential and her entire future may be in jeopardy, trapping her in a lifetime of poverty, exclusion and powerlessness. In addition this affects the health and the wellbeing of the children born of a child mother.

One of the key challenges facing child mothers is child marriage. This hinders girls from accessing quality education and has an impact on their physical, social and economic development.  In Sierra Leone, 50% of girls aged 18-49 years were married before the age of 18 and ¼ of young women (age 15-19) are currently married.

  1. How have you worked with and supported the first lady on her campaign and what do you intend to do next?

We have been actively involved in supporting her campaign on ending child marriage and have recently been one of the key development partners supporting the planning of the national launch of the AU campaign on ending child marriage. 

Last week was the 27th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union.  Even though civil society participation in the event was heavily restricted, Isaac Ooko (the Country Director in Sierra Leone) and I were able to join as part of the formal delegation of the First Lady.  We supported her in presenting her vision to organise a West Africa led, multi-country high level meeting on ending child marriage later this year.  We hope this will bring together key stakeholders to

-  Understand the underlying drivers of child marriage

-  Review progress made by countries against their commitments

-  Agree on an accountability framework to measure and monitor progress made against past commitments at national and AU levels

-  Identify champions across the region

  1. If you were to tell people the steps to engage such a high-level influencer, what would that be?

Before engaging a high level influencer, you need to understand the issues you are getting involved in and really identify if this is something you can see a clear win with.  You need to be clear on who the key stakeholders are and what their level of commitment is.  Ifyou, then identify a high level influencer, like the First Lady, you need to be ready to identify your value-add in this partnership and ensure the issue is something that you have strong internal and external support on and expertise in.