New Malala Fund Report on Educational Attainment for Girls During Pandemics

What can earlier pandemics tell us about the likely effects of school closures on the education of girls?

Written & Edited by Dhwani Kharel, IMHER Research Assistant

Many of those who work on global menstrual health and hygiene issues are partly motivated by the idea of promoting girls’ empowerment through educational access and success. Those goals may be compromised by a public health crisis like Covid-19, since school closures can have disproportionately negative effects on the educational trajectories of girls. 

While the global scale of the coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented in the modern era, there is some precedent for how school closures can affect girls.  In particular, there are some lessons to be learned from the effects of Ebola outbreaks in the recent past. 

Report Overview

A newly-released report by the Malala Fund does an excellent job of describing the lay of the land in this regard.  Girls’ Education and Covid-19analyzes the effects of school closures in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Libera during the 2014-15 Ebola Outbreak to conclude that the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to have a greater toll on the education of school-aged girls compared to their brothers. 

The report notes that the outbreak of Covid-19 had led to school closures in 90% of the world’s countries by early April 2020.  Based on historical precedent, the authors predict that “approximately 10 million more secondary school-aged girls could be out of school after the crisis has passed.” 

The report identifies a wide range of factors that contribute to gendered disparities in the aftermath of pandemics, including increased financial pressures in homes (resulting in difficulties paying school fees upon school reopening, among other consequences), increases in teen pregnancy rates, and reduced funding for education by national and local governments.

Perhaps of most relevance to IMHER’s readers, the report also describes strategies that were found to help mitigate the negative effects of school closures on girls. 

Bottom Line

As such, for anyone working in Africa, or potentially beyond, to improve the lives of girls through greater access to education – and for anyone who might have the ear of school administrators or community decision-makers – this report seems to be an important read. 

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