Addressing the impact of covid-19 on girls and women’s education in Africa

Girls and women face gender-based violence in schools and university, but a considerable number also find school to be a safe haven when they face abuse and poverty at home. Post-COVID education needs to rely on more sustainable and holistic measures that go beyond just accessing education, but also address the obstacles encountered by girls and young women in accessing quality education and completing the school cycle.

July 10, 2020 by Rita Bissoonauth, African Union International Center for Girls and Women’s Education in Africa
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4 minutes read
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Makbel Henok (left) and her classmate sharing a textbook in class. Makbel is 7 years old and is in grade 2.
Makbel Henok (left) and her classmate sharing a textbook in class. Makbel is 7 years old and is in grade 2. Ethiopia, January 2019
Credit: GPE/Alexandra Humme

COVID-19 is a human, economic and social crisis affecting everyone, and Africa, like the rest of the world, has not been spared.

With the rapid rise of coronavirus infections, African governments have adopted measures to curb the spread, including closing spaces of worship, markets and educational institutions.

Close to 250 million African children out of school

By April 6, 2020, 53 African Union Member states had shut down their institutions of learning. This left over 20 million learners out of school at pre-primary level, 160 million at primary, 56 million at secondary, and 8 million at tertiary level, with no access to continued learning and teaching facilities across the continent.

The African Union International Centre for Girls and Women’s Education in Africa (AU/CIEFFA), in line with its mandate, organized two multi-stakeholder webinars on Addressing Impacts of Covid-19 Pandemic on Girls and Women’s Education.

The aim was to discuss the wide array of initiatives undertaken at grassroots, national and regional levels as educational responses to COVID-19, and come up with concrete recommendations to ensure that learning does not stop.

In his welcome address, Dr Mahama Ouedraogo, Director, Human Resources, Science & Technology Department at the African Union Commission, highlighted that with shuttered schools, African girls are at increased risk abuse, sexual violence, trafficking, social exclusion and forced labor.

Schools typically provide safe spaces for girls. When they are in school, they are less likely to be forced into marriage and be abused sexually. During this pandemic, however, schools are not there to protect girls.

Dr Mahama Ouedraogo, Director, Human Resources, Science & Technology Department, African Union Commission

Additional risks faced by girls

Girls and women face gender-based violence in schools and university but a considerable number also find school to be a safe haven when they face abuse and poverty at home.

During the webinar, representatives from civil society, religious leaders and young women underlined how this situation had caused many young women to stop learning.

Many of them have had to return to the agricultural fields to help their families, have become unpaid domestic workers and are exposed to transactional sex and/or prostitution.

This crisis has also increased discouragement among girls and young women, clouded their hopes of success with heightened pressure from their parents to drop out of school, enter the labor market or get married.

Representatives from ministries of Education in AU member states shed light on their approaches to ensuring girls continue learning during the pandemic. Efforts have been deployed to disseminate reliable messages on TV, radio and social media to address education and health concerns of learners, parents and guardians.

Learners without internet or radio have received hard copies of teaching and learning resources. Radios have been distributed to parents and caregivers in remote areas, as teachers are actively engaged in radio learning programs to facilitate distance learning.

In many African countries, GPE is supporting continuity of learning, including the delivery of distance learning, especially for the most vulnerable, teacher support, safely re-opening schools, and strengthening resilience of education systems.

Rethinking education post-crisis

Although the efforts being made are commendable, there is need for more sustainable and holistic measures that go beyond just accessing education but address the obstacles encountered by girls and young women in accessing quality education and completing the school cycle.

Before the epidemic, and according to UNESCO estimates, 23% of girls were out of primary school compared to 17% of boys. By the time they become adolescents, the education exclusion rate for girls was 39% in comparison to 36% for boys (UIS, 2019).

There is need for more governments to develop post COVID-19 strategic plans for reopening schools, plans that take into account the needs of girls and young women.

The lockdowns have shown the need for governments to invest in nationwide ICT infrastructure in schools, including strategic crisis management plans and funds geared towards education, to make it easier for a smooth continuation of education during times of crisis.

Keeping track of students who don’t return to school

In concluding the webinar, I underlined that as schools reopen, school administrators and teachers should make sure girls and young women are re-enrolling and returning back to the classroom.

Member states and development partners need to continue sharing experiences and best practices during and post the COVID-19 pandemic and reinforce the importance of girls and women’s education to the development of individual nations and the continent within local communities.

Ministries should be tracking the numbers of children affected by school closures and provide gender disaggregated data to ensure they can act if a significant number of girls and boys do not return to school.

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Gender equality
Sub-Saharan Africa

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