Addressing the impact of COVID-19 on girls’ education in DRC
Sustainable Development Goals: 3, 4, 6, 16
- SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-Being
- SDG 4 - Quality Education
- SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
- SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
UNICEF DRC is helping to address the impact of COVID-19 on the education of girls through upstream support to the government and multi-sectoral programming. Financial support from the Global Partnership for Education, Education Cannot Wait and Global Affairs Canada, among other donors, enabled UNICEF to scale up support for school reopening across the country. Our support has focused on mitigating learning loss among students, providing them with mental health and psychosocial support, training teachers on the topics of gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and psychosocial support in the classroom and creating pandemic resilient school environments by improving schools’ hygiene and sanitation conditions. Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) has been a particular focus for girls.
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, important disparities existed between boys and girls in terms of completion of secondary education.
For every 100 boys, only 89 girls complete lower secondary, and 71 girls complete upper secondary education (MICS 2018). The main contributing factors are community practices which favor boys’ education over girls, such as domestic duties, child labour and early marriage. These factors have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Investing in education, especially in girls ‘education is key to advance national development and ensure a better and more equal future for all citizens of DRC,” said Helena Murseli, Chief of Education, UNICEF DRC. “To achieve this, we are working hard to make sure all rights of children, especially girls are realized through a cross-sectorial approach working closely with protection, nutrition, health and WASH.”
A study on the impacts of school closures on education, health and protection of adolescents by the UNICEF led Social Science Analysis Cell noted a general decline in school attendance: the main reason was a reduction in household income affecting the ability of parents to inability to pay school fees. The socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on households has placed an extra burden on households, resulting in children looking for employment to be able to support the family. An increase in the number of girls who engaged in transactional sex while schools were closed as a means of supporting themselves (and their families) as well as an increase in teenage pregnancy and unsafe abortion and the incidence of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) were reported by UNICEF’s partners. Teachers and parents also reported an increase in forced labour, domestic violence, and sexual violence for children at home when schools were closed. Lastly, very few students reported being able to follow distance learning courses or had access to materials during school closures: girls were less likely than boys to engage in distance learning due to household responsibilities (chores and caring for other siblings); inequalities in access to digital technologies among girls and boys were also observed.
These challenges place girls at risk of exclusion from school, exacerbating other protection risks including exposure to gender-based violence, child marriage, sexual exploitation, and violence, reinforcing the pre- existing gender disparities in terms of health, social protection, and economic status. An integrated approach is needed to ensure that education challenges for girls are addressed holistically. Investing in girls’ education, protection and health contributes to decreasing the transmission of inequality leading to better outcomes for future generations.
In 2022, we will continue to work with the Ministry of Education and partners to strengthen the role of schools as a platform for multi-sectoral services, by bringing together health, nutrition, child protection and WASH interventions. Through funding from UKAID, UNICEF is implementing a pilot project for girls’ education in the province of Kasai, where according to the MICS 2018 only 12 girls for every 100 boys attended lower secondary prior to COVID-19. The pilot project seeks to prevent dropout by reducing costs, changing social norms, equipping girls and boys with life-skills, making schools safer, hygiene and gender transformative.
“A child, well nourished, protected, healthy and aware of his/ her rights will learn better. Making sure that basic learning and teaching conditions are in place is our main objective,” said Helena. “I always feel privileged to work and to serve the most disadvantaged children in various countries and watching children play and learn, in a safe environment is always the best reward to my work and commitment for children”
As part of this project UNICEF is undertaking an evaluation as part of efforts to strengthen the evidence base on what works in girl’s education in DRC. Furthermore, as part of systems strengthening efforts, we are supporting the government in developing a gender diagnostic in education in DRC and build ministry capacities in gender-responsive sector planning and financing.