COVID-19 and girls’ education: what leaders and youth say must happen

On September 9, GPE brought together political leaders from Denmark, Sierra Leone and Norway and youth activists to discuss the importance of ensuring that girls and other vulnerable groups are not left behind due to COVID-19.

September 16, 2020 by GPE Secretariat
3 minutes read

At its peak, COVID-19 left nearly 1.6 billion children out of school, including 767 million girls. Six months after COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic, there are still more than 850 million children out of school.

On September 9, GPE brought together political leaders from Denmark, Sierra Leone and Norway and youth activists from the African Union, UNGEI and Girls not Brides. The discussion, moderated by Maryam and Nivaal Rehman, twin activists, journalists and filmmakers, focused on the importance of ensuring that girls and other vulnerable groups are not left behind when countries build back from the health, economic and educational setbacks caused by COVID-19.

Alice Albright, Chief Executive Officer of GPE, stated, “We’ve seen over the past few months - not just in the developing countries, but globally - how vulnerable education is to crisis. We know that when schools close girls are hit hard. There’s teenage pregnancy, there’s violence, there’s gender-based violence and there’s more early marriage.”

Rasmus Prehn, Denmark’s Minister for Development Cooperation, shared how Denmark has been a strong political advocate for girls’ education and has helped developing countries fight against the pandemic.

“It’s really necessary to support schools, and to support the work for gender equality, and especially girls’ rights. What we can see is that by having this focus in our education, we can actually empower young girls and women to set themselves free, to have the power to go after education rather than to just stick to traditions.”

Minister Prehn, Denmark

Aksel Jakobsen, State Secretary of International Development, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also expressed Norway’s support to girls’ education during the pandemic.

“Norway will continue its long-standing support for education for all, including girls and vulnerable groups, with the aim that no one should be left behind. Education for all is a key element to a safe future. And it’s a key element to resilient societies, and to reduce the difference between the rich and the poor, both nationally and in our global community.”

State Secretary Jakobsen, Norway

Responding to the pandemic, David Sengeh, Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education of Sierra Leone explained how his Ministry is using a targeted and strategic approach to ensure that girls are continuing to learn.

“Now, we are very intentional within the ministry in terms of disaggregated data, because you can only solve gender problems if you have the data – we are using a data focused approach,” said Minister Sengeh.

The youth participants also provided an important perspective to the discussion. In many countries in Africa, nearly half of the population is under the age of 18. Aya Chebbi, African Union Youth Envoy, shared the importance of youth voices.

“I think it’s really imperative that young people become an integral part of their government’s response and national plans, and producing these policies and national budgets on COVID-19. So, there are lots of ways that young people can be involved, and they should be involved. It’s not an option or a choice, it’s a must.”

With many children learning from home, Sonita Alizadeh, Rapper from Afghanistan and Girls Not Brides Champion, expressed the important role parents play.

“There is no spotlight on the parents. If we think about it, the first place that we learn about justice, injustice, equality, inequality, it is not in a classroom, it is not outside, it is inside our home, so parents are the initial teachers.”

As a former child soldier, current law school student and peace activist, Mohamed Sidibay expressed the life-altering opportunity education can play in a child’s life.

“The quality education that I subsequently received played a big part in expanding my world view. Education is the most important tool that can be used to harness potential, maximize productivity, and fight poverty.”


Watch a recording of the discussion

Norway, Denmark

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