When access to utilities is unequal, forms of violence are exacerbated
During a time typically dedicated to back-to-school preparations, many girls around the world are left wondering whether they will ever return to school. The longer they remain cut off from education, the greater the risks of their fundamental rights being violated, and the less likely they will return to school – acting like a domino effect. School closures due to COVID-19 have impacted more than 90 percent of students globally – including 743 million girls. More than 111 million from them are in the least developed countries, where accessing education is already difficult.
Need to prioritize education and fulfill unique needs
As a little relief, Plan International Canada is calling on donors, governments, and Canadian citizens to help a setback that is violating girls’ rights and could further derail the future of a generation.
“I’ve witnessed first-hand the achievements made when we invest in girls’ education and how, among many benefits, it increases a girl’s confidence and decision-making power within her home and her community,” said Dr. Tanjina Mirza, Plan International Canada’s chief programs officer.
Not the first time but Plan International found the same situation during the Ebola crisis; girls in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone were less likely to study at home compared to boys while schools were closed. In Sierra Leone, where schools were closed for months, there was an increase in adolescent pregnancy – an insight into what the same might happen in the coming months.
Education barriers = Illegal activities
Research from the Ebola pandemic also demonstrates that multiple forms of violence are exacerbated within crisis contexts, including trafficking, child marriage, sexual exploitation, and abuse.
Before COVID-19, there was progress being made, particularly with girls’ education. In March 2020, UNICEF’s research showed that nearly 67 percent of girls were enrolled in secondary school compared to 50 percent in 1998. Fewer girls were getting married or becoming mothers, and more were in school and literate – acquiring key foundational skills for lifelong success. But setbacks to this progress are happening with COVID-19 causing the closure of schools, lockdowns that have isolated girls at home, and economic pressures that may force families and girls to take dangerous and desperate action.
Plan International Canada is calling on governments and decision-makers to be flexible in their approach to education, ensuring equal rights for all children, and taking their unique gendered needs into account. For example, learning is moving online, and it has a strong potential to increase access to education but when access to technology and the internet is unequal, and girls are less likely than boys to have access, it will expand – not reduce – inequalities. Girls must be provided with equal access to free, low-cost mobile internet, and digital literacy training. Low-tech learning options must be provided as well, such as radio and television broadcasts or take-home learning materials coupled with regular information and guidance for caregivers to support at-home learning.