How COVID-19 Threatens Girls’ Education And Their Future.
Updated: Aug 2, 2021
Over 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools were affected by the school closure due to India’s COVID lockdown, according to a UNESCO report. While many schools have moved to online classes, this has not been a feasible solution for a large portion of the population who still live with limited access to the internet. But of the children impacted, it has been girls who have borne the brunt of these changes far more than boys.
India is fundamentally a patriarchy affected country where girls’ education tend to be deprioritized." At a time when schools are closed and access is restricted, girls tend to be put into household work. It is the women and girls who tackle the majority of it in families.
Evidence also indicates that the digital divide is a gender divide. Data from the Internet and Mobile Association of India has shown that many families, especially in rural India, often only have one device. A girl is likely to have less time with restricted single mobile phones or a computer that might be shared between the parents and the children. The probability of completion of education is much lower for girls especially in these circumstances, she stresses.
Homes are also not often safe spaces for girls. Many studies have revealed that domestic violence and abuse have been on the rise during the pandemic. Since families are restricted to their homes, women and girls have no one to turn to and are closed off from their communities and support systems. A rise in unemployment and problems like alcohol withdrawal due to lockdown further contribute to conflicts within the household. Involvement in paid child labor for girls has also been noted as families struggle with loss of income.
Researchers are seeing the rise of child marriages. An earlier push for education for girls and improvement in supporting infrastructure had led to a drop in child marriage rates but with girls now being forced to stay home due to lockdowns, it is on the uptick. It is a period of collective trauma. For many girls, school was the only time they would be allowed to venture out of the house and the psychological impact of being cooped up inside the house for over a year is immeasurable. Girls need psychological support.
Adequate nutrition is another major challenge for large parts of the population. In their capacity, the government used to provide mid-day meals to many low-income school children which is no longer possible with schools closed. With a major dip in rural and migrant population income, access to food once again comes into question. If food availability at home is restricted, once again girls have to compromise. Given the vulnerability of girls, COVID has hit them hard especially those who live at the intersection of marginalization.
While the pandemic has already made an indelible impact on the country’s economy, its impact is likely to be even greater given the magnitude of the second wave. With over three lakh new COVID-19 cases every day, there is a looming sense of death and despair in the air and many families have lost key breadwinners. The future of their children is hazy. In the long run, it is a lost generation in terms of skill acquisition, learning, and social skills. For girls who have had their education disrupted, evidence is pointing to the fact that there will be a lifelong loss of earning. Looking at future employment as well, preference may be given to men who are seen as primary breadwinners when there is a dearth of jobs. During the course of the pandemic, there has already been a disproportionate number of women who have lost their jobs and the trend is likely to continue in the future as the pandemic continues to decimate economic growth.