POSTED March 8, 2021
How can we revive girls’ education post-pandemic?
“If schools can stimulate such environments where there is critical thinking … that can make women stand up for themselves and become leaders.”
Tanaka Chikati is right. The 19-year-old Zimbabwe native shared that message during a recent online panel discussion Children Believe co-hosted with South Africa’s Graça Machel Trust, a leading women’s and children’s rights advocacy organization.
The pre-university student studying in South Africa, representing the Graça Machel Program, sees how the pandemic is impacting her peers in sub-Saharan Africa where a 2020 UNESCO reports shows 47 percent of children are out of school due to COVID restrictions — more than half are girls.
The virus has pushed many of them out of their school’s safety net. Instead they’re home doing chores beyond their capacity, facing violence at home and/or early marriages, early pregnancies, mental-health challenges and more. For many, the opportunity to return to school is lost.
If we don’t listen now, their voices will fall silent.
So, we must hear young women like Tanaka who see their peers struggling and Daniella Asare, a Children Believe youth ambassador, engineering student in Ghana and webinar panellist, who sees the need to “bridge the gap” between people who can make change and adolescent girls.
The good news is Canada is listening. Our government has formed the three-year #TogetherforLearning initiative aimed at putting education at the top of the international agenda. “I want to reinforce Canada’s commitment … to dismantling the barriers to quality education for women and girls,” said Leslie MacLean, deputy minister of international development in a video announcement from the online event.
Support is growing, but there’s still much to do. “It’s a human-rights issue, it’s a diplomacy issue…. it’s about influence,” Antoine Chevrier, director general, Pan-African affairs, Global Affairs Canada noted.
There is also a need for infrastructure, access to technology to connect young people to digital learning and holistic policies to make education accessible for all. We need a recovery plan to:
- accelerate access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines
- invest in a resilient education system, so children and teachers return to school safely
- strengthen child-protection systems to prevent sexual exploitation, abuse and gender-based violence
Girls facing barriers to education will guide our direction at Children Believe, so we can make sure they have the essentials they need to go to school. Last year, we provided financial support, counselling, medical and nutritional support as well as school supplies to nearly 6,000 girls in Ethiopia. In India, our partners prevented more than 50 child marriages since the pandemic began. Overall, we supported more than 680,000 children and their family members through the pandemic, so far.
Children Believe, governments, local partners and civil-society organizations understand education changes everything, and together we can empower girls so they will not only change their lives but ours, too.
“The unleashing of their potential will allow themselves, their families, and their communities to enjoy greater economic vibrancy and will have long-lasting benefits around breaking cycles of inter-generational transfer of poverty,” said Leila Akahloun, special advisor to Graça Machel of the Graça Machel Trust during the webinar.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director, United Nations Women, added, “Once [girls have] an education on their side, they have something to use to defend themselves…. something that truly belongs to them.”
There’s a lot we have to learn from them. May their voices continue to guide their futures, and ours.