New Delhi, Dec 9 : On the eve of Human Rights Day, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said on Wednesday that Covid-19 has robbed people around the world of loved ones, livelihoods and so many of the usual certainties and comforts of everyday life.
It is also threatening to steal from millions of girls their right to education, she said. These are girls who could grow up to develop vaccines for diseases, tackle social injustices or lead the fight against climate change, she added.
But the global pandemic, she said, is depriving them of the benefits which education and training confer on individuals, their communities and the wider world.
Girls generally experience more barriers to education than their male counterparts, and this has been exacerbated yet further by the Covid-19 pandemic and the necessary restrictions imposed to limit its spread.
According to Scotland, schools have closed and students have been forced to learn from home as a result of lockdown measures. Evidence suggests that girls are returning to school at a slower rate than boys, or sometimes not at all.
The international organisation ‘Girls Not Brides’ reports that as few as 12 per cent of the households in the poorest countries have internet access at home, while access to mobile internet is 26 per cent lower for women and girls than for their male peers.
In addition to limitations to access to education, women and girls disproportionately take up unpaid care work, even during the times of relative calm.
According to UNESCO, women and girls are being expected to undertake even more caretaking responsibilities in the home during the pandemic. This has detrimental impacts both for the education workforce, in which women predominate, and for the many girls who as a result are unable to continue their formal learning.
Furthermore, schools and colleges often provide a safe space from violence in the home or family members. Without this haven, girls are more likely to be subjected to abuse or forced into marriage.
Organisations across the globe have seen calls to hotlines for victims of abuse and demand for support services rise from between 25 and 300 per cent during Covid-19 lockdowns.
“Education is a pathway to socio-economic development, and we must not allow this pathway to be blocked,” she said.
“If girls have greater access to education and remain in school, they are able to make better and more informed choices about their future lives. Better educated girls will be key participants and contributors in the formal economy, earn higher wages and therefore develop their communities.
“Legislation and policies are needed to support action through the provision of targeted mechanisms and programmes to ensure that wherever possible girls remain in school. Where in-person schooling is not possible, governments should ensure girls are able to access distance learning. It is also critical that when girls are forced to work or learn from home, every effort should be made to ensure that they are protected from all forms of gender-based violence,” Scotland added.
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