PESHAWAR: Activists working for the girls’ education have called for more access and opportunities for girls to learn and achieve equally during the coronavirus crisis.

Speaking at a consultation via video link, they said girls’ education needed special attention during the Covid-19 pandemic. They pointed out that education had been hit, particularly hard with 1.53 billion learners out of school and closures of schools in 184 countries. The activists said the ongoing coronavirus crisis had impacted 87.6 per cent of the world’s total enrolled learners. They feared dropout rate across the globe is likely to rise because of this massive disruption in the education access. It was pointed out that the focus of Covid-19 response was mainly on health systems, the pandemic is already having a devastating impact on children beyond that. The education rights activists feared for the future of millions of children, who were currently out of school in Pakistan. They voiced concern at the limited mechanisms in place to ensure children can pursue education from homes. The activists said with their education interrupted and not being in a safe place such as a school, children were at a higher risk of abuse, neglect, violence and exploitation, and, especially girls were more likely to be dropped out of schools.

The participants of the consultation said some countries were better prepared to provide distance learning for children during school closures, the most marginalized girls and boys living in rural areas or the suburbs of the main cities would struggle to access distance learning. Qamar Naseem, programme Coordinator, Blue Veins and education rights activist said: “It is the equal responsibility of the government, civil society organisations and society at large to ensure that adolescent girls and young women do not face additional inequality and fall further behind in education during this pandemic”.He called for prioritizing solutions that analyze and address their specific needs and rights as part of the Covid-19 response. “We should encourage initiatives that prevent barriers like the burden of care-giving, inequitable distribution of learning resources and marginalization in the home, to increase access and opportunity for girls to learn and achieve equally during Covid-19”. Sana Ahmad advocate, another girls education rights activist, said the government needed to give space to youth, particularly girls, to shape the decisions made about their education.

She said they should be included in the development of strategies and policies around school closures and distance learning based on their experiences and needs. Taimur Kamal, Coordinator for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network Said, education needed to be integrated into the current response of the Covid-19 outbreak, as the future of millions of children was at stake. He said the disease may disappear over time, but children will continue to suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives.

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