While speaking during a side event of the UN General Assembly, Malala Yousafzai warned that as many as 20 million girls might never go back to schools, even once the global crisis of the coronavirus pandemic was over. Studies have shown that the pandemic is expected to have devastating effects on female literacy and gender equality.
The Nobel laureate and education activist acknowledged that Covid-19 has caused “a striking setback to our collective goals”, including those related to women’s education, Dawn news reported.
Malala Questions What Is Being Done To Prevent This Educational Deficit For Girls
“On education alone, 20 million more girls may never go back to the classroom when the crisis ends (and) the global education funding gap has already increased to $200 billion per year,” she said.
She reminded the global body that the sustainable global goals that had been set 5 years ago by the UN, represented the future of millions of girls fighting for equal opportunities and the right to education.
The 23-year-old woman who became the face of Taliban brutality when she took a bullet to her head for going to school, noted that very little had been done over the last 5 years to attain these goals. She asked the international body, “when are you planning to do the work?”
“When will you commit the necessary funding to give every child 12 years of quality education?” she continued. “When will you prioritise peace and protect refugees? When will you pass policies to cut carbon emissions?”
Girls’ Education And Gender Equality At Risk Of Going Back Several Years, For Several Years To Come
According to a UN report released in August, the pandemic has caused the largest disruption of education systems in recent history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion students. The school closures caused by the pandemic have negatively impacted 94 per cent of the global student population, 99 percent of which came from lower-middle and low income countries.
In India and other rural areas of Asian countries, daughters’ education is almost always the first to be cutback during times of financial difficulties.
Room to Read, a non-profit organisation working towards literacy and gender equality in developing countries, conducted a survey of 28,000 girls in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Vietnam, to understand the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on girls; education.
The findings showed that 1 in every 2 girls surveyed was at risk of dropping out. 42% of them also reported a severe decline in their family’s income during the pandemic.
“When families can’t afford school and have to choose, they will often send boys,” says John Wood, founder of Room to Read. He asserts that their findings show that gender roles propagated by cultural stereotypes play a major role in preventing girls in under-developed countries from completing their education, especially during times of financial hardships.
The entire scope of the problem isn’t known yet, but groups like World Bank and UNICEF have said that they’re closely monitoring the situation.
The expected outcome, however, is that countries where the rate of female literacy and secondary school enrollment was already low before the pandemic, are going to see an ever more severe education deficit for girls.
“The worrying trend is that the reopening of schools doesn’t automatically mean that all children will be back in schools,” says Francisco Benavides, regional education adviser at UNICEF East Asia and Pacific.
Historically, we’ve seen how devastating a financial crisis can be to female literacy, like during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Children were pulled out of school to earn income, and those who found work, rarely returned to school once they reopened.
For women, this lack of education is one of the key obstacles to their entering, participating, and earning equal wages in the workforce. Hindustan Times reports that an extra year of secondary school education can increase women’s earnings in the future by as much as 20%.
The barriers that keep girls from getting 12 years of education cost countries almost $30 trillion in earnings and lifetime productivity that have been lost. Educating girls has also been shown to be one of the most effective ways to ensure greater gender equality.
Benavides says that we are at risk of going back several years in girls’ education. “We’ll lose progress. The spill-over effect will be massive because it may also impact the generation after this one. It can take us so many years to get back to where we were before. This won’t help the Asian economy.”
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