Children around the world have big dreams. But now they are facing an enormous hurdle to achieve their dreams: the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic has disrupted every part of life. But for girls in particular, there’s even more at stake.
There were already 132 million girls out of school before the pandemic hit. Now, with school closures due to the pandemic, it is likely that fewer girls will return to school than boys. Why is this the case? In many places, girls’ education is valued less and they are relied upon as caregivers at home, especially with ill family members. These harmful gender norms not only reduce their opportunities but can put them at risk. When girls are out of school, they face a loss of education and an increased risk of gender-based violence, including child marriage.
Early marriage and disruptions in education are part of a wider pattern of weakening the rights of women and girls around the world, and the pandemic will almost certainly exacerbate these issues.
Despite these adversities, we know girls across the world are still breaking barriers and continuing to fight for their dreams.
Let’s meet a few of them!
Haouaou, 17, Niger
“If I dropped out of school today, I wouldn’t be able to achieve my goal and I’m sure I’d be given in marriage.”
When her school was closed in Niger as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Haouaou was bored at home doing nothing but household chores. Her family does not have a radio, phone or TV so she was unable to study remotely and worried she would have to repeat a grade.
Thankfully, Haouaou’s school recently reopened after putting safety procedures in place and she couldn’t be happier! Continuing her education brings her one step closer to achieving her dream of becoming a nurse.
Arsema, 14, Ethiopia
Arsema narrowly escaped early marriage, two days before her planned wedding.
She is one of 26 million children impacted by coronavirus school closures in Ethiopia, which have left many young girls at an increased risk of early marriage. When her school was closed, her parents wanted to get her married. When her older brother informed Arsema’s school about this, they immediately worked with the school and her family in educating them about the risk of early marriage. In Arsema’s case, the marriage got cancelled.
“I couldn’t be happier. Now I can study hard and become a doctor.”
Shumi, 15, Bangladesh
Shumi wanted to finish school and achieve her dreams, but her parents were going to marry her to a man she had never met in the hope she might have a better future. Shumi was against the marriage and enlisted the support of a Save the Children peer leader who runs an advocacy group for girls in the village. She helped Shumi convince her family that she didn’t need to be married and should instead complete her studies.
“I want to be successful in life. Now, I’ll complete my education.”
Maya, 14, Jordan
“I miss my school so much because it is my second home.”
Maya is from Syria, but her family fled to Za’atari Refugee camp in Jordan in 2013.
Like many other families, they’ve been quarantining in their home to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Maya has stopped going to school, but she keeps up with her lessons through the TV, the Internet and WhatsApp.
Maya doesn’t let the pandemic stop her from being the fierce advocate that she is for issues that impact girls like her, including child marriage and child labor. Through her advocacy, she’s ensuring girls in the camp don’t drop out of school and that their rights are protected.
Mutinta, 14, Zambia
“I am afraid of coronavirus but happy to be back in school.”
Like almost all students around the world, 14-year-old Mutinta’s school in Zambia closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But beginning on July 1, Mutinta and over one million other children across the country were able to return to school after authorities judged it to be safe. She is so happy to be back in the classroom and work towards her goal of becoming a nurse!
These girls prove to us that, no matter what, their future is worth fighting for. This month, girls will be speaking with international leaders at United Nations General Assembly about gender-based violence and other issues they face. That’s why we’re urging the U.S. government to step up and address gender-based violence during the pandemic. We call on leaders to increase foreign assistance and protect the rights of girls! Take action with us by clicking the link below.