In an op-ed published this week by New African Woman, EOF CEO Dr. Amel Karboul described the urgency with which the education community, governments, international aid organizations, and the private sector must act in order to get girls back to school post-COVID-19.
The education sector has long fought to keep more girls in school around the world, but with national budgets stretched further than ever before amid the public health crisis and looming global recession, it is imperative that girls’ education be prioritized now, wrote Dr. Karboul.
The consequences of a possible 20 million girls not returning to school post-COVID-19 would be devastating. The impact of education being cut short for girls, in particular, was recently demonstrated in West Africa during the Ebola outbreak, which caused five million children to be out of school for as long as nine months. One of the consequences of the outbreak was a spike in teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone, where 11,000 adolescent girls who had previously been in school became pregnant. When schools reopened, the majority of these girls were unable to return, due to a law at the time (which has now been overturned) that prevented visibly pregnant girls from attending for fear they would distract other pupils.
The impact of failing to prioritize girls’ education will not be felt by girls alone–Dr. Karboul cited a 2018 Word Bank study that estimated that:
“...Girls’ limited educational opportunities and the barriers they face to completing 12 years of education cost countries between USD 15 trillion and USD 30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.”
With the economic and moral imperatives clear, Dr. Karboul called for action: “we must give governments the confidence that when they invest in girls’ education, they are spending their money wisely and deservedly.”
To do this, efforts must be focused on interventions with demonstrated impact—investments and programs targeted at girls to address particular gender-based restraints (such as access to sanitary pads), for example; or conditional cash transfers, which have been successful in improving girls attendance in multiple geographies. Agile, results-based programs like Educate Girls have shown how outcomes funding can help ensure that girls are in school and learning, even during times of crisis.
As COVID-19 spreads across the globe, and countries grapple with the same problems in tandem, Dr. Karboul recognized that we now have a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to collectively test, learn, and innovate at speed and at scale. Calling for the education community to collectively mobilize to help girls return to school, Dr. Karboul also stressed the importance of collaboration with philanthropies, aid organizations, and the private sector in order to build a strong case for funding girls’ education:
“We must show how investing in girls’ education is a route to recovery—not another cost. To lose another generation of girls is a risk we cannot take."
You can read the op-ed here.