COVID-19 school closures in Africa put girls at unique risk of violence and dropout, survey of education organizations finds

School closures in response to COVID-19 are putting girls in developing countries, many in Sub-Saharan Africa, at a substantial risk of gender-based violence, early pregnancy, and dropping out once schools reopen, according to a new survey from the Center for Global Development (CGD). 

The survey includes responses from 98 staff at 82 different NGOs and other organizations that provide education services in at least 32 countries. About half the organizations were based on the African continent, with the rest concentrated across Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere. The organizations include school operators, other education providers, and groups that focus on children’s rights, childcare, gender equality, health, and more.

69% of respondents at education organizations said that school closures will disproportionately affect girls. Furthermore, 

  • 78% of respondents cited increased exposure to gender-based violence during school closures as an important or very important concern.
  • 69% ranked girls not returning to school once they reopen as an important or very important concern.
  • 68% ranked early marriage and pregnancy among school-age girls during the pandemic as an important or very important concern.
  • Of those respondents who believed girls would be disproportionately affected, 52% cited increased care responsibilities at home during the pandemic as a barrier to girls’ studies, widening the gender education gap.

“COVID-19 obviously presents immediate health needs that countries and donors need to deal with. But it’s also critically important to not lose sight of the gendered risks it creates. The evidence is clear that, from violence to care work, girls are disproportionately affected by school closures. Governments need to support the efforts of frontline organizations working to address these risks,” said Maryam Akmal, senior policy analyst at CGD and an author of the report.

As COVID school closures have increased risks for children, it’s also curtailed the ability of some education organizations to respond. Nearly half (42%) of education service providers say their budgets have been slashed, with most of those (73%) reporting cuts by private donors and philanthropies as donors shifts their focus. 33% of respondents said their organizations anticipate layoffs of frontline staff. Despite the financial and operational disruptions, 89% of respondents report planning and delivering additional interventions during the pandemic.

“Education organizations are on the front lines helping deal with the risks introduced by the pandemic, risks which disproportionately affect girls. But just as the pandemic is heightening the risks for girls, budget cuts are hurting the organizations that could help mitigate them. There are pressing needs across the board, but international donors and governments need to step up and ensure that girls don’t get left behind,” said Megan O’Donnell, assistant director for gender at CGD and an author of the report.

NOTE: The report of the study is available here, along with the survey data.

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