COVID-19 is additional layer to ‘gender equality in education’ challenge: UNESCO report

The report said while the extent of implications is difficult to predict with precision, they need to be monitored closely.

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an education crisis, fuelled by deep and multiple forms of inequality having gender roots and implications, the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) report by UNESCO has pointed out. Increase in gender-based violence during the period families spent at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, potential rise in teenage pregnancies or early marriages, possibility of a section of girls dropping out of schools or colleges, girls being at a disadvantage due to shift to online learning and increased responsibilities of household chores, are among the several implications pointed out by UNESCO in the report.

“Uncertainty over the contagiousness and deadliness of COVID-19 led governments around the world to impose lockdowns, curtail economic activity and close schools and universities. In April, 91 % of the global student population was affected in 194 countries. The COVID-19 pandemic has precipitated an education crisis, fuelled by deep and multiple forms of inequality. Some of these forms have gender roots and gender implications,” it said.

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The report said while the extent of implications is difficult to predict with precision, they need to be monitored closely.

“The first of these implications is concern that the extended period families spent at home during the lockdown increased gender-based violence. Whether such violence affects mothers or girls, the consequences for girls’ ability to continue learning are clear. Second, sexual and gender-based violence coupled with restricted access to reproductive health, police, justice and social support services may increase early pregnancy,” it added.

The UNSECO report has raised a red flag about the potential increase in early pregnancy likely to be a result of increased early marriages, a consequence of households being plunged deeper into poverty due to the pandemic.

“One estimate is that COVID-19 could cause 13 million more child marriages over the next 10 years. There have been attempts, based on previous knowledge of the links between poverty and school attendance, to project the potential effect of COVID-19 on dropout. UNESCO suggests that 3.5 % of adolescent girls of lower secondary school age and 4.1 % of young women of upper secondary school age in sub-Saharan Africa are at risk of not returning to school,” it said.

Quoting the World Bank that girls aged 12 to 17 are more at risk than boys of not returning to school in low and lower-middle-income countries, the report recommended that the countries need to recognise the need to maintain contact with girls during the pandemic to support their eventual return to schools.

“Fourth, the shift to online distance learning could disadvantage girls. In low and middle income countries, women are 8 % less likely than men to have a mobile phone and 20 % less likely to use the internet on it. Finally, school closures have led to increased child care and chore responsibilities at home, which are likely to disadvantage girls more.

“A study of secondary school students in Ecuador during lockdown showed boys and girls were equally likely to continue their education in the morning but more girls did chores in the afternoon, while boys were engaged in leisure activities,” it said.

COVID-19 has infected over 3.91 crore people across the globe claiming over 11 lakh lives.

According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates, over 154 crore students are severely impacted by closure of educational institutions across the world amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

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