A disproportionate burden: The impact of Covid-19 on girls

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According to the UN population fund, as a result of Covid-19, there will be seven million more unintended pregnancies, two million more Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) cases, and 13 million more child marriages.

Girls are facing so much of the collateral damage of the virus due to the compromising of education. By April 2020, 90% of countries across the world closed their schools, forcing girls to adapt to remote learning. This is practically impossible for students in low-income countries, especially in rural areas. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 90% of students don’t have access to a computer at home, and 82% can’t access the internet. 

Education can no longer be the priority that it is for many boys in the same conditions. Girls have to support the household and often even become the sole breadwinner, especially if their parents fall ill with the virus. Malala Yousafzai summarises this issue, saying that “in a crisis like Covid-19, girls and young women are the first to be removed from school and the last to return.” This is a problem that has an immense impact on the whole of society, as Malala states: “educated young women are also critical to public health and economic recovery.

The pandemic has begun to reverse progress made in the past few decades by organisations such as the Malala Fund to increase girls’ access to education in lower-income countries. Over the past two decades, the number of girls not in education was reduced by 79 million globally. It is vital that the numbers are prevented from rising again, as many problems stem from the removal of an education.

One catastrophic impact of this is higher instances of child marriage and pregnancy. Girls are increasingly turning to marriage as the only perceivable option for their futures. The UN projects an increase in South Asia, followed by West and Central Africa.  

Seven million unintended pregnancies will also occur, mostly as a result of reduced access to contraceptives due to the pandemic. There has also been a 20% increase in gender-based violence resulting from spending more time around men and boys, without the safe haven education has to offer. 

“FGM has a far-reaching impact and is a problem being faced on our doorstep”

There is some optimism regarding FGM. Girls are less likely to be taken abroad to undergo the procedure and ceremonies are less able to take place due to social distancing. In the UK there has been a drop in FGM reports by a third in July-September 2020 compared to 2019. However, the likelihood is that cases are taking place without being detected, as girls are forced to be confined in the home and wounds are able to heal without seeing anyone outside the household. Few girls and women are accessing specialist clinics in the UK, leading to a worry that they are not receiving treatment. FGM has a far-reaching impact and is a problem being faced on our doorstep.

So how can the burden girls are facing in the pandemic be relieved? 

By examining the 2014 impact of the Ebola outbreak we can predict the long term damage the pandemic will have on girls, offering a foresight to be able to reverse it. Five million children were affected by school closures in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, creating similar conditions and problems to Covid-19. 

The Malala Fund has stressed the importance of girls having the resources to learn from home, offering the possibility of radio learning. They also propose to remove gender discrimination in schools’ policies when they re-open, such as ending bans on allowing pregnant girls to enrol and removing examination fees. If action is taken to implement policies such as these, then the situation can be drastically improved. 

Progress is being made on the problem girls are facing as a result of the pandemic. Here are some organisations that we can support to aid this progress:

Girls Opportunity Alliance – Obama Foundation

Kakenya’s Dream | Empowerment

Girl Up Initiative Uganda (girlupuganda.org)

Creative Action Institute | Nonprofit | United States

Home – The Footprints Foundation (footprintssa.org)

Empowering Indigenous Female Leaders in Peru – Sacred Valley Project

End Female Genital Mutilation | End FGM

For more information, read Malala Fund’s report here.

Article by Isabel Jackson