Voices from the West Africa Adolescent Girls Summit

By Maria Creamer | May 9, 2022 | Africa & The Middle East | Education, Freedom from Violence & Exploitation, Gender Equity, Youth Empowerment

In April 2022, over 100 young people aged 14 to 19 from urban and rural parts of Liberia and Sierra Leone attended the first West Africa Adolescent Girls Summit in Liberia. Unlike previous youth summits, this event was designed and created by adolescents for adolescents.

A group of 12 adolescents, all of whom participate in GFC partner programs, led the design process for the event. These young people chose to focus the agenda on contextual issues facing girls in their communities, their countries, and all of West Africa. They also strongly felt that boys should be included in the summit, as the involvement of all people is needed to truly achieve gender equity in this world. The days were filled with workshops and activities that bridged connections and new friendships, raised voices, and ignited an adolescent movement.

During the summit, some of the adolescents and adult assistants provided real-time reflections about how they were feeling and what they were taking away.

“I’m so inspired. I am learning things I had never learned before. I feel like we have the power to change the mindset of people about girls.”

– Naomi, 14, Sierra Leone 

“This ‘X’ means breaking biases. We want gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.”

– Yatta, 18, Liberia

“The summit is great, and it’s creating a safe space for every adolescent boy and girl.”

– Hajai, 19, Liberia

“I’m feeling really excited about this summit. The most interesting part has been the networking and learning process.”

– Nancy, 18, Liberia

“This summit has created a space for boys and men to address issues affecting girls, so that together we can create a more equal world.”

– Thomas, 17, Sierra Leone

“I feel good seeing adolescent girls standing up for their rights. They are also fighting to go into parliament to make decisions for themselves. It’s a privilege to watch this.”

– Balakisa, Adult Assistant, Sierra Leone

“I am impressed by the participation of the adolescents, and how they are leading discussions. If you give adolescents a platform, they can do amazing things.”

– Alusine Rogers, Adult Assistant, Sierra Leone 

These testimonies reflect what it means to shift power into the hands of adolescents. In an adult-centric world, these young people showed how a shift in trust and ownership can enrich and strengthen the fabric of society.

The impact of this shift was especially obvious on the last day of the summit, which was attended by the vice president of Liberia, Jewel Howard Taylor. In front of the vice president, summit participants presented a clear outline of how a broken education system, harmful traditional beliefs and practices, and a lack of healthcare are limiting the potential of girls in West Africa. These adolescents also presented solutions and concrete action steps. As they spoke, Vice President Taylor and many others were listening.

“I will meet you and see what we can do together, so that we can begin this important phase of our work. Because as national leaders, it is our assignment. Whatever young people say, maybe we can’t reach 100%, but we can start doing the work.”

– Jewel Howard Taylor, Vice President of Liberia

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