Back to school: reaching the girls who may never return to the classroom
Now more than ever, we must protect every girl’s right to a safe future
As the autumn term begins, going back to school looks very different for children in the UK and around the world this year.
The temporary closure of schools because of coronavirus has forced over 743 million girls out of school globally.
And while many children will be eagerly returning to class over the coming months, our experience of working in health crises tells us that devastatingly, many girls may never make it back to education.
A safe space and a decent meal
For many girls around the world, school is the only safe space they know and their only source of a decent meal.
We know that closing schools and interrupting education dramatically affects girls’ lives. For those who can’t go back to school, their futures are more likely to include early or forced marriage, pregnancy, exploitation and abuse.
It’s feared that the pandemic will disrupt efforts to end child marriage globally, resulting in an additional 13 million child marriages over the next ten years.
Even when home schooling is in place, girls are less likely than boys to continue getting some kind of education. Outbreaks of disease increase the existing burdens of unpaid care and domestic work that already fall disproportionately to girls and young women.
Girls may be expected to do more chores at home or to care for a sick relative, making them much less likely to home study than boys.
Securing a safe future
Now more than ever, we must stand with girls everywhere and protect their right to a safe future free from discrimination, inequality and abuse – here in the UK and all over the world.
That’s why we’re partnering with girls and listening to their experiences, to make sure their voices aren’t forgotten. We’re also working to meet girls’ immediate needs as well as supporting the long-term recovery of their communities.
- We’re working to end child marriage. In communities where child marriage happens, we’re working with girls to make sure they know their rights. We’re educating families on the risks of child marriage, as well as supporting communities to make sure girls are valued and their voices are heard. Our work with boys and men, as well as religious leaders, is also important in enabling young mothers and pregnant girls to return to school.
- We’re working hard to find new and immediate ways for children to keep learning, even when they can’t go to school. We know that having an education is vital to give every child, every chance. In Ghana, we’re broadcasting lessons on national television so that children who aren’t in school can still learn. Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, we’ve trained 164 volunteer community educators to communicate with girls through phone calls, text messages and WhatsApp to ensure they can continue with their studies.
- We’re beginning to prepare for a safe return to school for all children. For example, in Guinea we’ve distributed face masks and essential back to school supplies to students, as well as providing handwashing kits to 150 schools, so students and teachers can safely wash their hands and prevent the spread of coronavirus. When schools reopen, we’ll work to ensure those we support are properly disinfected and have adequate water and sanitation facilities.
“The man who married me was older than me – we had an age difference of 10 years. I didn’t know I had the right to say no to sex. That’s how I got pregnant. I felt isolated because nobody wanted to encourage me.
“But after I joined the Youth Friendly Corner with Plan International they told me that I could still go back to school and complete my education.
"They advised me that even though I am married, I can still end my marriage and go back to my parents. And just like that, I was free from the abuse I was experiencing.” – Bertha, 19, Malawi
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