Shadow Pandemic: Increased Poverty-Level Tops Cultural and Traditional Barriers Preventing Girls from Returning to School

Caregivers in rural Adamawa are certain that the girls in their care will not be returning to school due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was contained in a study report on the Impact of COVID-19 on Girls’ Education in the North-East, recently launched by  Connected Development, in collaboration with the Malala Fund. 

While many of the girls interviewed had doubts that they would be allowed to continue their education, a percentage of girls were certain they would be getting married in a short while. In some cases, cultural and traditional barriers are preventing girls from returning to school: girls may be less preferred to return to school as opposed to their male counterparts due to the male-child preference system. Girls are also more at risk of being married off or undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). 

According to the Chief Executive of CODE and Malala Fund Education Champion, Hamzat Lawal, “The future of our world is a deliberate investment in the younger generation, particularly girls. To educate girls is to empower a nation.” He added that, “Government must proactively set up a gender-responsive plan for school resumption, in the wake of the pandemic.”

Gender-responsive measures include providing more funds for education and ensuring every community has a female secondary school, provision of handwashing points, other WASH facilities, and personal protective equipment. The government also needs to garner and mobilize the support of stakeholders: religious and traditional, community leaders as well as the media to increase sensitization on the importance of girls’ education, Lawal added.

The research further revealed that the pandemic exposed girls to increased shortcomings and challenges that already exist in the education system including sexual harassment linked to gender-based violence, child marriage, harmful norms, inadequate teachers and WASH facilities. These factors also kept a good number of girls out of school pre-COVID.

In assessing the effectiveness of the Learning from Home Programme (LHP), the study showed that only 60% of the teachers were in contact with their students for continuous learning post-pandemic. To worsen matters, only 48% Of the girls interviewed in Adamawa State were aware of the federal government’s LHP and the level of awareness amongst parents which was a meagre 15%. From respondents across Local Government Areas in Adamawa State, only 28% of the girls interviewed participated in the LHP.

Through these findings, the research hopes to advocate for policy adoptions in favour of continuous learning for girls’ amidst school closures. This begins with ensuring that the LHP is effective and inclusive; boosting recovery readiness by putting gender-responsive measures/standards in place for girls safe return to school when schools reopen; effective mechanisms to promote girl-child education; and approaches that should be considered for effective digital learning for girls. 

Other recommendations include tackling the impact of conflict and the insurgency in the region and enabling adequate inclusive planning for vulnerable groups (girls living with disabilities, and girls in internally displaced camps). Ultimately, the sustainable impact will comprise a free and compulsory 12-year education for the girl-child starting from Adamawa state and a reduction in the incidence of early and forced child marriage in focal communities leading to an increase in girls’ secondary education enrolment, retention and completion.

Connected Development is an initiative that is passionate about empowering marginalised communities.

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