Schools typically provide safe spaces for girls. When they are in school, they are less likely to be forced into marriage. During this pandemic, however, schools are not there to protect girls.
UNESCO warns that “Covid-19 school closures around the world will hit girls hardest”. It is feared that it will lead to increasing “drop-out rates which will disproportionately affect adolescent girls, further entrench gender gaps in education, and lead to increased risk of sexual exploitation, early pregnancy and early and forced marriage.”
Girls and adolescent girls are also impacted by the care work burdens of COVID-19
Both rural and uban areas recent research reveals that, relative to their male peers, teenage girls spend considerably more hours on chores. Not only do school closures mean that girls take on more jobs at home, it may also lead to millions more girls dropping out of school before they finish their education , especially girls living in poverty, girls with disabilities or living in rural, isolated areas. Even before this pandemic, millions of girls were struggling with low quality education and millions were not on the road to achieving the minimum skills in basic reading and mathematics, or the skills, knowledge and resources at secondary level that they need for a productive and fulfilling life. In rural areas teenage girls are at particular risk of dropping out and not going to school.
Impacts on sexual and reproductive health
The provision of services relating to sexual and reproductive health, including maternal health care and services related to gender-based violence, is fundamental to the health, rights and well-being of women and girls. Worsened maternal mortality and morbidity, increased rates of teen pregnancies, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases may result from the diversion of attention and essential resources away from these provisions. Child marriage and the resulting early pregnancies will increase dramatically in crises, a key barrier to girls ' education.
The unpaid care economy is a critical mainstay of the COVID-19 response
The gender distribution of unpaid care work poses gross imbalances. Women were doing three times as much unpaid care and household work as men before COVID-19 became a universal pandemic. This unexplored economy has real implications on the formal economy and the lives of women. The less noticeable components of the care economy are under increasing pressure, but in the economic response they remain unaccounted for.
Care for (and by) older persons is also a critical need in the face of COVID-19
Across countries, women are over-represented, especially as they advance in age, among older people. For older people, male or female, women of all ages provide the majority of unpaid care; the continuity of this care will depend on their own health and well-being as well as their ability to reduce the risk of infection for individuals in their care.
In order to ensure continuity of care for those who need it and to acknowledge unpaid family and community caregivers as vital workers in this crisis, urgent action is therefore necessary.
What governments must do to protect Girls
To ensure that these figures are not further compounded by the pandemic, policymakers must act. There are several ways that girls can begin to minimize the damage they suffer.
To begin with, it is important that emergency response initiatives resolve women and girls' unique vulnerabilities. Their engagement in the implementation of these initiatives is essential to ensuring this. Specific information about threats faced by girls should always be included in public awareness messages, as well as how to report harassment and seek support.
Governments should also collaborate with governments, school officials and educators to track the involvement of girls in distance learning programmes. They would need to intervene if these programs do not reach girls or if their families or societies do not give priority to the education of girls. In order to do their important outreach work, the government should encourage teachers and give them money.
Additionally, governments should provide teenagers with information and resources about sexual and reproductive health. This means ensuring that they are able to access a wide variety of contraceptives that value their integrity and privacy.
These efforts must continue when schools reopen. School officials and teachers should ensure the return of girls. Governments can control the number of children impacted by school closures from now on and provide gender-disaggregated statistics to ensure that they can respond if a large number of children do not return to school. Governments should develop policies to recognize and support those who have not returned, such as through the introduction of schemes for financial assistance.