Impact of the pandemic on women and girls
The pandemic has exposed the unpaid care work women provide daily to society and their families. As Devex highlighted, ‘it’s largely women on the front line as health workers. Women represent 70% of the global health workforce.’
Yet, women make up just 25% of global health leadership, and are underrepresented in COVID-19 global health decision-making and leadership bodies. Symptomatic of our wider society, women continue to be underrepresented in political leadership and boardrooms, and in some regions, there is need for more female teachers and women in school leadership to serve as role models so more girls enter and stay in school.
As schools close and social distancing comes more into effect, girls are among the most vulnerable. As underscored by Angelina Jolie and Audrey Azoulay, with shut schools “early marriages increase, more children are recruited into militias, sexual exploitation of girls and young women rises, teenage pregnancies increase, and child labor rises.” All these have an impact on girls’ return to school, and we risk losing gains already registered on girls’ education. The opposite is also true: education significantly improves not only the life prospects of individuals, but the stability and prosperity of whole societies.
Important lessons and good practices must be learned from the Ebola epidemic and impact of school closures on girls. Education in emergencies also provides a useful body of knowledge on how to deal with this unprecedented crisis.
Education as a catalyst for more female leaders
By March 31, 382.5 million children were out of school due to nationwide school closures in 64 of 68 GPE partner countries. Although needed the unintentional consequences could widen inequalities. COVID-19 is amplifying the struggles children and youth across GPE partners countries already face in receiving quality education, and what this could mean for public education investments and external aid from what will already be stretched resources and far narrower fiscal space post crisis.
It also highlights the integral role education plays in fueling innovation and skilled talent needed to combat the next crisis and the important role education plays in fostering female leadership – the next doctors, nurses, scientists and technologists needed to fight the next pandemic.
Education is a catalyst for female leaders as exemplified by the many female leaders heading up global education agencies – GPE, UNESCO, UNICEF and ECW and a number of major NGOs. At country level, this is also exemplified by President Sahle-Work Zewde, Ethiopia first female president and only female head of state in Africa and Chair of the International Futures of Education Commission.
In a visit to Ethiopia just ahead of the massive global outbreak of COVID-19, Alice Albright, CEO of the Global Partnership for Education and Advisory Board member of the Futures of Education Commission, met with President Zwede to discuss women and girls’ leadership, closing the gender gap, expanding girls’ access to education at all levels and women taking on more decision-making and political roles. They also talked about the need to transform education, ensure it’s fit for the future and relevant to needs of young people and their economies.
COVID-19 helping connect the dots
If anything, COVID-19 is forcing the global education community to step away from business as usual, work even more in partnership, identify alternative ways for children and teachers to continue learning remotely, and in remote areas have access to safe, quality education resources for teaching and distance learning.
At the regional level, Professor Sarah Anyang Agbor, African Union’s Commissioner for Human Resource, Science and Technology noted on the same prescient visit to Ethiopia, it’s important we connect the DOTSS in education : D – digital connectivity, which involves connecting every school to the internet; O – online platforms for learning to complement offline learning in classrooms; T – teachers as facilitators of learning; S – safety in school and online; S – skills which are foundational, job oriented and teach children how to learn.
Let us celebrate the women that have taken up the call in the fight against the pandemic, recognize the men who have supported gender equality, and work towards ensuring we avoid unintended consequences so that every girl has an equal chance of using her skills for economic and social progress.