COVID-19 Conversations: Impact of School Closures on Girls in Africa
COVID-19 is exposing and exacerbating gender inequalities around the world. Each week, we’ll be sharing insights from Equality Now experts about how women’s and girls’ lives are being affected by the pandemic and what can be done to address these challenges.
We start with Judy Gitau, Equality Now’s Regional Coordinator for Africa, who sheds light on how school closures across Africa could impact girls.
To limit the spread of COVID-19, African governments have closed schools temporarily. What are some of the ways that school closures will put girls at an increased risk of human rights violations?
Schools are generally safe spaces for girls and those not in school are more vulnerable to human rights violations, including sexual and labor exploitation, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, early pregnancy, and early and forced marriage. Schools provide a channel via which violation or threats can be reported and action taken. This pandemic has shut down this key source of safeguarding and it will most certainly result in reduced protection for girls and less accountability for perpetrators who commit harm.
The unprecedented economic impact of COVID-19 will have far-reaching and devastating consequences for households across the continent, particularly where there is minimal social welfare provision. This will place girls at increased risk of pregnancy from transactional sex in exchange for survival basics like clothes, sanitary products, school fees, food, and clean water. There is concern that when schools finally reopen, families facing economic hardship may not be able to afford the cost of school for their daughters or may prioritize boys’ education.
What are some actions governments should take to protect girls while schools remain closed?
Governments need to ensure that emergency measures and long term responses address the particular vulnerabilities and needs of girls. This includes providing:
- Public services announcements that raise awareness about the increased risks girls face during the pandemic, how to mitigate these, and where to go for help;
- Information campaigns that make clear that violations against women and girls will be investigated and perpetrators punished;
- Strict enforcement of laws against violations such as sexual assault, domestic violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation, and trafficking;
- Widespread availability of information and services offering sexual and reproductive health care to adolescents;
- Implementation of gender-sensitive policies to assist girls returning to class when schools reopen, including those who are pregnant and adolescent mothers;
- Safe shelters for girls in imminent risk to minimize violations;
- Continuous monitoring of known ‘hot spots’ for particular violations to ensure timely interventions.
To learn more about Equality Now's work in protecting every girls’ right to education check out some of our current campaigns.
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