As we mark International Day of the Girl 2020 (11 October), Aide et Action wishes to highlight the seriousness of the threat Covid-19 poses to girls’ education and to urge nations to keep their commitments to ensure all girls are guaranteed access to 12 years of free education, as provided for by Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4).
Across the Asia-Pacific and around the globe, there is emerging evidence that Covid-19 is having a disproportionate impact on women and girls. While children in Asia have largely been spared the worst of the direct health effects of Covid-19, it has exposed millions of girls to the risk of violence, abuse and exploitation during the periods of travel restrictions and lockdowns.
In settings where schools have shuttered in response to the pandemic, girls are not only missing out on an education but also on the protective elements associated with formal education such as access to essential information and support and a safe space. Without the daily routine of education, out-of-school girls are more likely to experience violence at the hands of relatives, neighbors or others within their communities.
The risks of being out of school
Girls who are out of school are also more at risk of resorting to harmful work or falling prey to various forms of exploitation. They are also more likely to face the prospect of child, early and forced marriage – which is considered to be a form of gender-based violence – as families under financial strain struggle to cope. As economic situations worsen around the globe, but particularly in low and middle-income countries, more and more parents are likely to be unable to pay for their children’s school fees, uniforms or school materials. UNESCO, estimates that 11 million girls around the world are at risk of never returning to school.
According to UNICEF, missing out on school even if only for a few weeks, can lead to negative outcomes that can last a lifetime for marginalized children. In countries such as Viet Nam and Cambodia where children experienced three and six months of school closures respectively, a significant digital divide was revealed – between those with access to both a device and internet and those without, exacerbating previously existing learning gaps. Other impacts included interruptions to the delivery of essential and routine healthcare (including vaccination and nutrition services).
The road to gender equality
2020 should have been a year of celebration for girls, the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, considered, to date, to be the most progressive roadmap for gender equality. In 1995, the Beijing Conference concluded with a vision that every girl and every woman should exercise and know their rights. This agreement between 189 states to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of girls and women everywhere has sadly been unfulfilled to date as we still remain far from the target.
This year, as we mark International Day of The Girl 2020, Aide et Action is working to identify the needs of the most marginalized children in the face of the current pandemic and ensure no child gets left behind. Aide et Action is an international non-profit working in 19 countries around the world supporting the development of sustainable education projects. Aide et Action has been working in Southeast Asia since 2003 and has projects across Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Vietnam.
The organization, free from any political and/or religious ties, is based on the values of freedom, respect, solidarity, equity, and integrity. Aide et Action works in close cooperation with stakeholders, populations, other NGOs, governments, and local authorities. In 2019, we supported 1,911,194 children, young people, and adults to benefit from quality education or new professional skills.