Updated: Oct 18, 2021
COVID-19 has undeniably impacted the prospect of women earning an education, especially in underprivileged countries in Asia and Africa. Before the pandemic, it was estimated that only 39% of women in rural communities had the opportunity to earn an education. For many women, the chances of receiving an education in Third World countries have consistently been low, but the past decade has seen a steady increase in girls’ enrollment in schools.
In impoverished communities, girls look forward to going to school, as many see it as a place of refuge from child marriage, unwanted pregnancy, and abuse. Indeed, receiving an education has been considered an AIDs/HIV vaccine, as women are vulnerable to sexual abuse outside of the school environment. While many women go to school to receive an education, other reasons may also motivate them to attend classes,the major ones being an escape from the harsh reality they have to live through.
Because of COVID-19, women are not able to attend school and are forced to stay at home, making them more susceptible to child marriage and other forms of abuse. Family businesses are also harmed by the virus and as a result, women are forced to work in the fields or become unpaid domestic workers to support their families. Some women are also turning to prostitution.
However, the need for income and the closing of schools are not the only factors barring women from achieving an education. While schools in developed countries have adopted online learning, this option is not feasible for children in underdeveloped countries. Access to technology and sufficient internet connection is scarce in rural communities. Therefore, having remote learning as the only option for education blocks women in these areas that are at a socioeconomic disadvantage from the opportunity to learn.
In rural communities in India, access to literacy is available to men at higher volumes than it is to women. Furthermore, teachers are not familiar with technological platforms, making online learning ineffective, even if girls had access to technological resources.
Federal governments have also used much of the funding previously allocated for education to address the ongoing pandemic. Many of the schools that serve to educate girls in poverty-stricken communities are funded by the government, so the cuts to the education budget have tremendously impacted the quality of education in the COVID-19 era. For example, schools have seen a decrease in the already low numbers of available teachers. According to the Malala Fund, the actions of governments have virtually reversed the work that girls’ education activists have been working towards in the past 20 years and has widened the already large gap between the literacy rates of men and women.
In 1995, India launched a program called “Mid-Day Meal Scheme,” to increase child enrollment in schools and provide children with adequate nutrition. While this government-funded program has tremendously increased school enrollment in the past years, COVID-19 has caused it to experience severe budget cuts, resulting in a drop in school enrollment. Females who experience severe nutritional deficiencies have become reliant on mid-day meals, and families consider the mid-day meal scheme as an incentive to send their children to school. Without mid-day meals, many expect to see a decline in girls’ enrollment in school and a lower re-enrollment after the COVID-19 crisis comes to an end. While some states have reintroduced the program following a steady stream of complaints, the majority of states in India have not brought it back due to the financial scarcity brought by the virus.
Overall, COVID-19 has barred women from achieving an education as a result of the lack of finances, assistance, and the digital technology barrier. Along with this, the lack of governmentally funded schools and programs, which provide children with nutrition, has also been a significant obstacle for women trying to gain access to an education. Collectively, these factors prevent girls from having a safe space from harsh conditions and have led many to believe that the work that we have done to bridge the education gap between men and women has been erased by this pandemic.
Through Teen Lenses: What do you think governments and other organizations can do to prevent girls’ school enrollment from decreasing?
“There are many factors that play into decreases in school enrollment from poverty to religious reasons. Families may need their children to work and make money for financial support causing them to overlook education. But I think organizations or even local governments can sponsor children giving them the necessary supplies and resources to send them to school.” Neha Dheen, Rising Junior at Thomas S. Wootton Highschool, 16, Rockville
“To prevent a decrease in girls’ enrollment in schools it’s necessary for governments and other organizations to prioritize raising funds to provide learning tools that would make education more accessible.” Meghna Krishnan, Rising Junior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, 16, Rockville
“Definitely provide resources for those girls to receive distance learning! Many don’t have access to computers and service, so governments and organizations could provide the funding and resources to schools in order to keep teaching girls even throughout the pandemic.” Ellie Helgeson, Rising Senior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, 17, Rockville