Build Back a Better World for Girls – Mr. Sunil Maini

Build Back a Better World for Girls – Mr. Sunil Maini

There is no greater pillar of stability than a strong, free and educated woman.”

Girls’ education has been specifically challenged by the pandemic, especially for girls from low-income households and girls in rural areas. Girls have faced threats including increases in child marriage and gender-based violence.

Many girls are married in exchange for money as a result of the economic effects of the pandemic on families. The education emergency caused by the COVID pandemic could also roll back progress that has been made to achieve gender equality in education. It has been reported that there might be a sharp increase in the number of girls who would not be able to return to school after the pandemic.

Girls are missing out on education because they can’t access online and distance learning. Member organisations are aware that only 12% of households in the poorest countries have internet access at home, and access to mobile internet is 26% lower for women and girls than for their male peers. On top of this, girls are the first to be pulled out of school, put to work and care for younger siblings when families face economic hardship. As a result, member organisations are concerned that girls don’t have time for school work and may not return once schools reopen.

Girls are harder to reach when schools are closed. Restrictions on travel and strict curfews mean that many member organisations are now physically unable to reach the girls and communities that they support, especially those in rural areas. Programmes such as girls clubs and support networks have been stopped, meaning girls can’t seek support or access the services they need.

Education is one such tool that enables you. It enhances the moral and intellectual progress marked by refinement in behaviour and etiquette. In simple words, education makes a human being. I believe that women are born with a lot of values. So the effort to improve the presence of women in society is a necessity. Their role is not only to rest at home but also as an active and equal partner in building a community. We want to see women teaching children in school, we want to see them as nurses, we want to see them as cooks, nannies, caretaker but what about seeing them as something bigger than this – As factory owners, businesswomen, managers, astronauts, ministers, the sole breadwinners in their families.

If 75% of the population who lives in villages will not send their girls to schools, how will they achieve these goals? Sending to school will make our dreams of raw bud form as beautiful as flowers which will not only beautify the world but will also spread happiness and powerful mindset in the society. We should focus on modifying India with the aim of developing the country.

Even God has given the structure of human brain, ability to read and learn things equally. The teachers who teach us, the schools we go to, whether they are in cities or villages should not be factors to discriminate on.

During lockdown, distance learning and home schooling have enabled some children to continue their education using apps and online platforms. For communities without internet access or mobile devices, providing smart phones and tablets directly to households, or delivering school curriculums via radio programmes, have also proved to be practical steps to provide children education.

Whatever the method, remote and blended learning programmes are provided in ways that ensure girls have equal access to them – for example, making online lesson times flexible to fit around their domestic work and other responsibilities.

Parents and communities need ongoing guidance on how to support their children’s education during school shutdowns, and how to continue to support home learning when schools reopen. This should include advice on making provision for sexual and reproductive education and health services normally delivered in school settings to be provided at home.

Post-lockdown, back-to-school campaigns and active outreach services will be necessary to encourage parents to send their children back to school, including girls and young mothers. It will be essential that girls receive the right services, support and social protections when they re-enrol.

Preparations to reopen schools also have to consider that not all children will be going back on an equal footing. Some would have struggled to learn in the lockdown more than others and will be reliant on remedial education to catch up.

Others may have suffered violence or trauma while schools were closed. They would require emotional and psychological support and referrals to deal with these impacts of the pandemic.

Under stay at home directives, sport for development programmes and physical education lessons are also being cancelled, suspended, or re-thought altogether. The lack of physical activity, the social isolation, and deteriorating financial situations of families can lead to an increase in their levels of stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression challenging their mental health and wellbeing. Under these conditions a large number of girls are at high risk for physical and sexual violence, unplanned pregnancies, and child marriage.

Many girls around the world are now losing contact with the vital support system that sports NGOs and schools have provided – through peer to peer learning and professional coaches and facilitators.

These are sometimes the only safe space available, leaving them to face challenges such as domestic violence, increased burdens of care, and economic survival on their own.

School closures represent much more than a space for academic learning and, through quality physical education curriculum, provide an opportunity for students to develop the physical, social and emotional skills needed to navigate delicate life transitions and increase individual resilience.

Some projects and schools are trying to keep children and adolescents engaged in physical education and targeted sports activities online, however not all participants have access to the internet. Even when they do, particularly girls and young women can be overwhelmed with care work and household chores and cannot engage in online tasks. Once containment measures lift, many girls will be unable to return to sports practice, as traditional roles will have set in and their contributions to the economy and care for the family will be seen as necessary to family well-being and even survival, overshadowing the “luxury” of their sport practice. Moreover, families and teachers will be especially concerned for children and adolescents to catch up the missed time away from school. Sports and physical education lessons may not be a priority. Further, even if all these barriers are overcome, grassroots organizations risk not being able to continue offering sport programmes – especially where governments and donors are stopping or reducing financial support. For girls whose parents lost incomes, they may have to drop out of sport because their families can no longer “pay to play” or cover the costs related to their engagement in sports.

Sports are one of the most powerful platforms for promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls. The number of women competing at the Olympic Games has significantly increased – from 34 per cent at Atlanta 1996 to an expected new record of 48.8 per cent at Tokyo 2020 and a commitment to reach full gender equality for the Olympic Games Paris 2024. The IOC has also changed the rules to allow one male and one female athlete to jointly carry their flag during the Opening Ceremony, and encourages all National Olympic Committees (NOCs) to make use of this opportunity.

The future is uncertain. We may have to learn to live with COVID-19, rather than expect to overcome it. The mounting financial burden faced by all countries put progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal at risk as aid budgets come under pressure. Increased poverty will, as always, have a detrimental impact on the lives of girls and women. As the virus lingers the trend towards digital education will continue with blended learning, a mix of classroom and online teaching, being the new normal. There are opportunities here, as there are with new curriculum developments, but not for the vast numbers of female students who struggle with connectivity. For many it will be too late as, facing poverty and lacking the ability to feed themselves, family coping mechanisms will mean that girls will be married off rather than educated further and will be shouldering a greater domestic burden as their parents look far and wide for work. There are causes for optimism and plenty of voices envisaging a better world and the opportunity to build back better: “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world a new. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”

The opportunity for global solidarity in face of a global pandemic is there. There are calls for vaccines to be made available for all, for renewed

action on the climate emergency, for consultations with young people whose futures depend on the international community’s response to the current situation, and for the rights of children to be put at the heart of recovery.

“ Let a girl be your strength and not the weakness. Educate her!”


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