ABSTRACT. Concerns about increases in Sierra Leone’s high rates of teenage pregnancy during the Ebola crisis of 2014–15 have led to redoubled efforts among policy-makers and development practitioners to address this problem. The startling health and education impacts on teenage girls underline the importance of these efforts. This article explores current efforts to reduce teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone, drawing on two periods of qualitative fieldwork in 2015 and 2016 under the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium (SLRC), involving interviews and focus group discussions at the national level and in six districts across the country. The article argues that programming focuses overwhelming on changing the behavior and decisions of girls themselves, based on assumptions that exaggerate the control girls have over their lives. These approaches tend to hold narrow views of girls’ lives and the types of sexual activity they engage in, and overlook the socio-economic and socio-legal aspects. We argue instead that responses should strengthen their focus on changing the contexts surrounding girls’ lives and livelihoods, principally by promoting behavior change among men and boys, as well as addressing the complex socio-cultural and justice aspects of underage sex and pregnancy. Six recommendations are offered.

Keywords: Sierra Leone; teenage pregnancy; gender; public health; Ebola; sexual violence

How to cite: Denney, Lisa, Rachel Gordon, Aminata Kamara, and Precious Lebby (2017), “Change the Context Not the Girls: A Critical Analysis of Efforts to Reduce Teenage Pregnancy in Sierra Leone,” Journal of Research in Gender Studies 7(1): 11–51.

Received 26 July 2016 • Received in revised form 4 November 2016
Accepted 5 November 2016 • Available online 25 November 2016


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Overseas Development Institute
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Feinstein International Center,
Tufts University
Fourah Bay College,
University of Sierra Leone
Fourah Bay College,
University of Sierra Leone

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