The 11th of October marked the world International Day of the Girl Child (IDGC) as declared by the United Nations in 2011. It is a key Global observance which is dedicated to the observation and recognition of the girls’ rights and the unique challenges they face.
This 2020 IDCG was commemorated under the theme, “My voice, our equal future”, which speaks to the need to give the girls a platform to air their voices on issues that concern their empowerment, fulfilment of rights and solving the problems that they face. It was also celebrated in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and movement restrictions also raising a further need to critically address the challenges that have been worsened by the global pandemic.
The COVID -19 and the indefinite lock-down in Zimbabwe has hit hard on the country’s education sector. The effects of the pandemic are aggravating pre-existing issues and inequalities in education, and threatening to erode much of the gains in balancing numbers of boys and girls who enrol and complete education at all levels . It is therefore imperative that during such momentous times the voices of the girls are heard in order to come up with gender specific redress, and solutions to the challenges resulting from the spread of the COVID—19 and measures to control it.
Disheartening statistics continue to be shared highlighting how many girls may not go back to the classroom post the school closure and the COVID-19. The many reasons have a bearing on the empowerment and future of the girl child. Some girls have fallen pregnant from sexual relationships, some from rape and some forced marriages .The lockdown period has also forced vulnerable girls to spend more time with their abusers, increased idleness and also pushed girls into risky behaviours to raise money for food since most house hold incomes were also negatively affected.
The Herald 12 October 2020 (https://www.herald.co.zw/400-drop-out-over-pregnancies-illness/) reported that over 400 girls from four districts in Manicaland have dropped out of school altogether owing to pregnancy, marriage, financial challenges and illness. This is just statistics from one province which are also expected to rise in the province and nationwide.
This and many more reports is reason enough to call for gender specific responses to disasters and pandemics. Indeed COVID-19 has disrupted daily lives and systems but a gendered look goes on to interrogate the impact between sexes. It is also crucial to note that the education of both boys and girls has been compromised and girls are hit the hardest because of the existing inequalities and gender roles. As an organization, we reiterate the need not to “leave anyone behind” and to be mindful of the Sustainable Development Goals 4 and 5 on inclusive quality education and lifelong learning and gender equality.
As an organisation that has been supporting efforts to eliminate gender disparities in education in Zimbabwe since 1998, we delight in celebrating gains made so far. According to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MoPSE) Zimbabwe had reached parity in terms of enrollment of boys and girls in primary schools. The rates of completion and excellence between the boys and the girls pre- COVID- 19 was also worth marking as an achievement especially as girls had been historically denied a chance at education. However of late FAWEZI acknowledges with regret the loss in the educational gains. We note with sadness that not all girls will be returning to school, seating for final examinations and not all girls have had access to alternative learning platforms. This has a big impact on the equality and quality of education for all.
In observance of the IDGC 2020 FAWEZI under the School Related Gender Based Violence (SRGBV) Whole School Approach (WSA) -Pilot Initiative organized a dialogue session with girls from the project schools in Chitungwiza District. The session was mainly aimed at having girls speak about the challenges they are facing especially in light of the COVID-19 and the subsequent measures to curb its spread. The girls buttressed our fears though an anonymous question and answer session where they shared their challenges. Issues raised ranged from sexual and physical abuse, teen pregnancy, child marriage, child labour, lack of adequate food and sanitary wear and school drop outs.
During this difficult time and phased re-opening schools, FAWEZI commits to individually and jointly work towards the protection of children and their rights, and also come up with solutions for similar incidences in future.
Our recommendations include:
- Back to school efforts must consider strategies to reach out to girls who are likely to never return to school.
- Improvement in the implementation of Non Formal Education and effective school – re – entry and continuation policies
- Schools (heads, teachers, parents) to embrace non formal education to cater for pregnant girls.
- Intensify Comprehensive Sexuality Education so as equip girls and boys with knowledge to make informed decisions.
- Strong Collaboration between government and CSO’s to plan and develop emergency distance learning mechanisms.
- Improvement of teacher welfare
- Set up programs that support pregnant and parenting learners such as child care