The daily news updates on the COVID-19 pandemic can be a frequent cause for anxiety these days. I know I am not alone being concerned about my family’s health, my children’s education, and the economic well-being of my community.
WOMEN AND GIRLS NEED OUR SUPPORT
I also know, in spite of these worries, our public health system is one of the best in the world, our dedicated teachers are overcoming enormous challenges to help our kids learn, and a spirit of generosity is infusing efforts to support those who are suffering financially.
I am uplifted by this knowledge, but aware I am privileged to live in Canada. Too many people are living in countries without the health, educational, or social infrastructure to help them through the pandemic. Many women and girls do not have basic rights protections to fall back on and are at risk of gender-based violence.
COVID-19 INCREASES GIRLS’ RIGHTS ABUSE, including early marriage
As a Crossroads supporter, I know this will not come as a shock to you, but the stories we are hearing from our partners in Africa are jarring: increased incidence of violence and abuse of girls; a surge in teen pregnancies with one partner in Eswatini reporting the highest rate of teen pregnancy ever seen in the country; a Minister of Education in one country forced to issue a public statement urging 30 girls who are pregnant be allowed to write their exams. Save the Children recently published a report stating that Covid-19 had put 2.5 million more girls at risk of early marriage by 2025.
The pandemic is increasing poverty, forcing girls out of school and into work or marriage, the charity said.
Our work must continue; now and well after the pandemic is behind us, whenever that may be. It is why International Day of the Girl on October 11 is more important than ever.
Such occasions are opportunities to reflect on the challenges faced by too many girls around the world, but it is also a moment to be hopeful.
CANADA’S INTERNATIONAL AID IS CRITICAL
And there are reasons for hope. None the least of which is because it is girls and women in the South who are doing much of the living to keep their communities safe: caring for the sick and elderly in their homes and communities where health and sanitation systems are weak; farming the land to produce the food and income their families need to survive.
Canada is helping too. I was heartened last week to see our federal government investing $400 million to help with the impacts of COVID in some of the poorest countries in the world. In announcing the new aid funding, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “Global cooperation is crucial to protect people, save lives and defeat COVID-19.”
The Prime Minister is right. It is why Crossroads is working to strengthen girl’s rights and their access to education, building on the Girls’ Empowerment Club model by collaborating with local partners in six countries to help girls learn about their bodies, their rights, and their potential.
CELEBRATING INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE GIRL 2020
We are inspired by the experiences of women like our annual Day of the Girl breakfast keynote speaker Khadija Gbla, a former child refugee from Sierra Leone, a Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and gender-based violence survivor, and today, an activist for empowering girls and women.
The evidence is clear that protecting girls’ rights now, keeping them safe from violence, and giving them opportunities to succeed will transform communities and change the world.
More and more of us, from the political level to the grassroots, understand this and are motivated to act. In this current challenging context, this is what gives me hope.
Let’s keep working at it together.
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” – Desmond Tutu
Read Heather Shapter’s Op-Ed in Vancouver’s The Province, here.