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Importance of Girls’ Rights and Safety in 2020

Aug 4 2020

Girls’ development work has gained momentum in rural East African communities in the last decade. Through Asante Africa’s education and life skills programs, we have seen more girls complete an education and transition to gainful employment than ever before. More parents and community members have also shifted their views to see girls as valued members of society. However, the progress that girls have achieved for equality is now threatened with the COVID-19 health pandemic. School closures have forced all students to remain at home where girls are more vulnerable to gender-based violence (GBV), teenage pregnancies, child marriage, exploitation, and other forms of abuse. Girls are now facing challenges that could end their education, harm their health and safety, and widen the inequality gap that they have been fighting to close.

Ways to increase girls’ safety

During these times of hardships, there are still opportunities to help girls. Girls need to continue to be seen as valuable community members. Girls should be engaged during the response and recovery phase by including their voices in needs assessment, design of education and other interventions, and feedback surveys. Being inclusive is essential and can help ensure that girls’ needs are being addressed throughout the pandemic.

Governments should support safe distance learning efforts developed by teachers and communities. Through these new modes of teaching, education should include how to recognize and prevent GBV, and deliver sexual and reproductive health and rights lessons. Because these services are currently unavailable, prioritizing GBV awareness and sexual and reproductive education are crucial for young girls to learn how to protect themselves and to gain more allies. Girls also serve as caretakers for families and responsibilities such as caring for the sick or collecting water at communal spaces put their health at a higher risk. Advocating against gendered roles can help put forth practices that are equal and fair and reduce the strain girls have on unpaid labor.

Governments, teachers, and community members should also make efforts to change discriminatory attitudes and practices towards pregnant schoolgirls, young mothers, and wives. It is common in many African countries for pregnant girls to be expelled or forced to attend a school designed for pregnant schoolgirls. Tanzania’s government has enforced this policy since the 1960s and had only recently lifted the ban on pregnant schoolgirls and young mothers in April 2020. However, that does not mean the stigma and prejudice will immediately disappear. Gendered discriminatory laws have long-term and sometimes permanent impact and efforts to eradicate the social and cultural beliefs should start as soon as possible to amend any practices that have violated girls’ education rights.

Through community efforts, girls can be protected and the goal for gender equality can be sustained. If you want to support girls and youth in East Africa, consider a donation that will go towards our “Youth Essentials Kit” to address immediate needs such as hygiene, food, learning materials, and other essential support! 

 

Written by Genevieve Chan

  1. Girls not Brides, “Joint letter to the African Union: The impact of COVID-19 on girls’ education and child marriage,” Girls not Brides,  April 30, 2020 – https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/joint-letter-to-the-african-union-the-impact-of-covid-19/
  2.  Care, “Care Rapid Gender Analysis for COVID 19 East, Central and Southern Africa,” Care, April 30, 2020, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/ECSA-RGA-_-FINAL-30042020.pdf
  3.  Girls not Brides, “Joint letter to the African Union”
  4.  Girls not Brides, “Joint letter to the African Union”
  5.  Care, “Care Rapid Gender Analysis for COVID 19”