When Sierra Leone’s College of Medicine organized its first ever beauty pageant this year it was final year student Julia Grey Coker who emerged as the first Miss COMAHS 2019. She won on a platform that focuses on putting girls first.
Coker said being part of the Miss COMAHS 2019 pageant was a great experience not just for her but for every contestant who took part in the pageant. Students in medicine had never before had a chance to compete in a pageant. Being that COMAHS has some of the nation’s brightest student, the competition was perhaps the tightest of any other pageant in the nation. When her name was announced as the winner she almost burst into tears. But this wasn’t just a win for Coker, it was an opportunity to take her message for girls to a wider platform. Girls in Sierra Leone must come first.
“I think in a Sierra Leonean setting even in a classroom as a student myself I notice that teachers ask boys more questions than girls cause they (the teachers) think boys are better,” said Coker, Miss COMAHS 2019.
Sierra Leone’s tertiary enrollment rate is 2 males for every female student. Female teachers account for just 17% of the nation’s academic instructors (World Bank Report No. ACS4393 – Sierra Leone Higher Secondary Education Tertiary Note 2013). The education sector even at the highest levels is rife with gender disparities.
“If a teacher wants to give a task they’ll rather much give it to a boy than give it to a girl because they think the boys will be more up to the task than the girls. So for me, I think pushing the system to target girls is a much better approach. It’s not only about talking to the girls to do STEM fields, but we also have to talk to the teachers to engage girls; include them in brainstorming and giving them tasks just like boys.”
The gender biases must be tackled if girls are going to reach their full potential. Coker added that we have to change the misperceptions around what girls can be and accomplish.
“I’m not aiming to be housewife, nurse or doctor or anything basic. I can actually aim to be president as well. The presidency is not just something that boys should aspire for, girls must do the same. The future is female, we have to push for girl power in Sierra Leone”.