Millions of people around the world have been infected with deadly coronavirus and billions are affected socially and economically. According to an estimate, worldwide school closures during the pandemic have already caused 743 million girls to miss out on their educations, and 10 million more secondary school-aged girls are predicted to be out of school before it is over. In Bangladesh education institutions have gone into this protracted closure on March 17. There are around two lakh educational institutions across the country with more than four crore students. There is a growing trend of continuing ‘home schooling’ through distance education approach using the internet. But according to the GSMA’s 2020 Mobile Gender Gap Report, in Bangladesh 33% of men use mobile internet against 16% of women. And internet use rate among girls are less than boys.
We know, in our country girls are not getting equal chance and facilities at home, school and workplace because of our conservative mindset towards them. Experience shows that crises often disproportionately affect girls and young women, exacerbating gender-based violence, exploitation, early marriage and unintended pregnancy. Due to Covid-19, child marriage has risen because parents are feeling insecure to keep their girls out of school for a prolonged uncertain time. Many parents have lost their job or earning source. Even when school reopens, they would have to make a hard choice about which child or children they can send back to school. During this pandemic, girls are helping at home far more than boys in daily chores and house work. This has made it far more difficult for them to continue their study at home compared to their male counterparts. Many girl students are becoming pregnant at this time. Pregnancies will create a barrier for their further study when school will reopen. On top of this, girls are the first to be pulled out of school, put to work and care for younger siblings when families face economic hardship.In Bangladeshi, lots of organisations are expressing serious concern about girls’ dropout from school and deprivation in emergency situations such as a pandemic. Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) has conducted a survey recently, which showed that child marriage has increased sharply because families are becoming poorer due to job losses. School closure has also driven up the number of child marriages considerably and this is likely to continue if no interventions are made. Another organisation named ‘Associations of Voluntary Actions for Society’ Bangladesh has expressed concern that since nobody knows when this crisis will be over, many guardians may think of marrying girls off, instead of waiting for schools to reopen.
Not only in Bangladesh but global organisations are also expressing concern about this issue. ‘UNICEF’ has stated that more than 1.57 billion children have been affected by school closer so far due to Covid-19. And the longer children are out of school, the greater the risk of sexual violence, child labour and child marriage. Similarly, ‘UNESCO’ also stated that at the peak of the pandemic, more than 1.5 billion learners, or over 90% of the world’s student population from pre-primary to higher education, have seen their education disrupted and at times interrupted. Another organisation named ‘Women’s Health and Republic Rights Organization’, Sierra Leone has stated that the closure of schools has increased girls’ vulnerability to physical and sexual abuse, both by their peers and by older men, as girls are often at home alone and unsupervised.
In order to reduce girls’ drop out and increase their participation, it is important to identify the areas and the factors that need to be developed when school will reopen. Necessary policy recommendations by expertise will be needed which will help implement efficient strategies successfully. At the same time, innovative ideas about how to put girls at the center of the response and developing follow-up plans with families to ensure girls’ return to schools once lockdowns are lifted will be essential. Awareness campaigns can be conducted to encourage families to continue supporting girls’ education.
The writer is an alumna of Teach for Bangladesh