Falling on 11 October, International Day of the Girl Child is a United Nations day that brings attention to “girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.” Empowering young girls early in life can give them the “potential to change the world — both as the empowered girls of today and as of tomorrow’s workers, mothers, entrepreneurs, mentors, household heads, and political leaders.”
However, as we’ve seen with previous health crises, COVID-19’s lingering economic and social impacts on young girls and women could have dire effects. In our recent series on COVID-19’s impact on women, we’ve explored how the pandemic is impacting girls’ education, how it’s impacting maternal care worldwide, and much more. Now, we’re diving deeper into COVID-19’s impact on girls and young women, specifically. Here are five ways the pandemic is impacting girls globally.
1. COVID-19’s is threatening girls’ education
Even prior to COVID-19, 90% of children in low-income countries could not read and understand a simple story by the age of 10. Then, by April 2020, pandemic-related school closures affected 91% of enrolled learners (boys and girls) worldwide. For girls, however, these school closures could have more dire effects due to factors such as inaccessibility to remote learning tools, deprioritization of education, and teen pregnancy.
Prior to COVID-19, the past two decades saw the number of girls not enrolled in school drop by 79 million globally. The pandemic is threatening that progress, as it could result in 20 million girls in developing countries potentially being out of school even when this pandemic is over, and many more will have lost out on months of learning.
2. The toll on girls’ unpaid work
Before COVID-19, women and girls engaged in more unpaid work compared to men and boys. Unpaid work ranges from child care and family care to at-home work like cleaning and cooking. Although varying from country to country, globally, women and girls work three times more at home than their male counterparts.
Now, as young women and girls are “caring for elderly and ill family members, as well as for siblings who are out of school,” that divide in unpaid girls’ work has and will continue to increase.
3. Higher risks of gender-based violence
The pandemic is putting young women and girls at a higher risk for gender-based violence, child labour, and exploitation due to increased economic stress on families and quarantine measures. Effects of “stay-at-home orders and movement restrictions” are major contributors to this increased risk.
In fact, if the lockdown causes a 20% increase in violence, a year-long lockdown could result in 61 million cases of intimate partner violence.
4. COVID-19 could increase child marriage numbers
COVID-19 could cause a spike in child marriages as it has “disrupted efforts to stop this practice.” An additional 13 million child marriages could happen within the decade because of it.
5. COVID-19 could cause 2 million avoidable cases of female genital mutilation
The pandemic has severely affected prevention programmes and measures that protect girls from female genital mutilation (FGM). As a result, COVID-19 could result in 2 million avoidable cases of FGM within the next 10 years.
Why raising awareness is necessary
Just reporting the facts is half of the battle — raising awareness and bringing attention to why girls’ empowerment around the world is necessary is the key to making a difference. That’s why, as part of our series exploring COVID-19’s impact on women and girls, we’re also profiling women and girls who are fighting for gender equality and a better future. Stay tuned for more in the series.
Acting today can affect change in future, and investing in and empowering young girls around the world is a big part of making that happen.