Education International celebrates the annual day for promoting the empowerment of girls and the fulfilment of their human rights, as well as highlighting existing challenges faced by girls all over the world.
The theme for this year’s international day of the girl child is ‘EmPower Girls: Before, during and after crises’. Millions of the world’s 1.1 billion girls are living in situations of crisis such as man-made conflicts or natural disasters (e.g. earthquakes, tsunamis, floods). Chronic crisis situations include those in which refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPS) have been uprooted from their homes for a number of years, or so-called ‘fragile states’ in which the State is unable or unwilling to provide quality education for all.
It goes without saying that providing education is critical to the survival and well-being of children, youth and their families in situations of crisis or emergency.
Gender inequality intensified and exploited
It is now well-documented that during crises and emergencies, existing gender disparities increase, and may even be exploited by the groups or forces that emerge as the most powerful during a crisis. Ergo, traditional gender roles can be more intensely enforced in a crisis and girls may face serious violations of their human rights. Sexual violence targeting girls, abduction and trafficking, forced marriage and early pregnancy accompanied by exposure to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections become the order of the day in too many situations of crisis. Very young girls may also find themselves becoming heads of households due to the premature loss of their parents or other adult carers.
Gender-responsive quality education even more crucial
States are duty-bound to uphold the right to education, which is both a human right and a public good. The provision of ‘education in emergencies’ refers, therefore, to ‘quality learning opportunities for all ages in situations of crisis, including early childhood development, primary, secondary, non-formal, technical, vocational, higher and adult education. Education in emergencies also refers to longer-term education policy and programme development in chronic crisis situations.
Ensuring that educational content and delivery is gender responsive becomes all the more important because in a crisis, education provides physical, psychosocial, and cognitive protection that can sustain and save lives. Education can also contribute to reversing the damaging gender inequalities that may be augmented and exploited during crises.
A Year-long Effort
Today marks the start of a year-long effort to focus attention and catalyse global action on improving the educational chances of girls before, during and after crises. The specific barriers that prevent girls facing crises in their countries from successfully completing education must be addressed. Hunger, poverty, unequal domestic care, lack of safety on the way to and from school all keep girls at home, especially during a crisis.
As education unions, it is part of our core mission and mandate to ensure gender perspectives are integrated at every level: within teachers initial training and continuous development programmes, as well as in the curricula and in all education-related policies.
The ambitions of SDG4 and SDG5 (the sustainable development goals on education and the empowerment of women, respectively) will not be achieved if a single girl is prevented from enjoying her right to education at any time, but most especially in times of crisis.
Every girl needs and deserves the full support and encouragement of the global education movement; today is the day we send them that message loud and clear.