Supporting marginalised girls:
Lessons learned before the pandemic

What we found

  1. Protecting girls is a priority in the current crisis that needs a coordinated response from different sectors.

There is extensive evidence that school attendance has a powerful protective effect on adolescent girls and is strongly linked to reductions in early pregnancy and child marriage. Policymakers need to consider how the protective functions of schools can be achieved through alternative services during school closures. 

These services must be provided urgently to avoid millions of girls dropping out of school. Emergency responses need to directly address the increased risks. This can be done through SRHR education and services, phone calls, text messages and home visits from health and social workers and setting up hotlines where girls can seek help. 

Policymakers also need to acknowledge other ways schools offer protection of girls. Beyond providing girls with basic knowledge and literacy, numeracy and life skills, schools also give qualifications and skills for employment, giving girls and their guardians a reason to delay childbearing and marriage. 

Therefore it’s important that education programmes are available to girls. Education should be seen as part of any emergency protection response for girls.

  1. Addressing economic barriers is the first step to ensuring girls have access to learning.

Policymakers should consider cash transfers to the poorest households as a way to protect girls and allow them to learn outside of school. Where cash was given for attending school, they should be maintained during school closure to limit economic shocks to households. 

Policymakers must also think about how to make sure distance learning doesn’t cost girls and their families more money. For example, consider the costs of electricity, devices and data. 

Girls and their households need to know the economic advantages of continuing their education. Programmes that raise awareness of education services during school closures should make these economic advantages explicit.

  1. Policymakers need to consider providing safe spaces – either virtual or physical – for protection and learning during school closures.

Schools provide a safe space where girls can learn together and offer each other social support. In the contexts of school closures, policymakers should support the development and use of virtual platforms where girls can interact and learn together. They should also have oversight of these platforms to ensure that they are safe for girls to engage with. 

Where girls do not have access to social media, physical safe spaces like schools, religious buildings or outdoor spaces where girls can meet should be considered. Policymakers need to consider how local lockdown regulations should be adapted for such meetings to take place, whilst limiting the risks of infection.

  1. Distance education programmes need to be gender responsive.

The design of distance education programmes, including content, pedagogical style, scheduling, and choice of presenters should be informed by international evidence. 

Programmes need to take into account gendered barriers to learning at home. These barriers can be highly contextual. Those working at the national level to design distance education solutions should consult with local women’s and adolescent rights groups, as well as local organisations with experience of delivering home and community-based education for women and girls. This helps to fully understand the gendered barriers and how they can be overcome. 

The choice of which media to use should also be informed by local context and data on girls’ access to different forms of education technology.

  1. Education responses must consider the extent to which marginalised girls are able to access educational technology.

Distance education reliant on technology needs to ensure girls have direct access to the technology or are provided with no-tech alternatives. Options to consider include:

  • ensuring households with access to technology are aware of the learning opportunities available and of the importance of supporting girls’ education at home
  • putting relevant education technology in the hands of girls at home
  • giving girls safe access to shared education technology with social distancing and good sanitation
  • equipping local facilitators, through education technology, to facilitate learning for small, local groups of girls.
  1. EdTech distance learning should allow direct contact with girls by a teacher, learning facilitator or other adult.

This can be conducted through social media, phone calls, home visits or small local group sessions. Policymakers need to identify which professionals or volunteers are best placed to fulfil this role. 

It may be teachers, but the use of local volunteers, including members of women’s groups, youth groups and parent-teacher associations, should also be considered. Social and community health workers could be intermediaries between girls and their teachers in cases where teachers are unable to maintain direct contact.

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