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Education for girls is in a crisis amid a crisis

  • Published at 12:30 pm November 4th, 2020

Education in the time of Covid-19 pandemic

Bithi, a ninth-grader, and Shajib, a seventh-grader, are siblings. They come from a low-middle income family from a rural area in the southern belt of Bangladesh. Their father, Bodrul Mia, runs a small business and somehow has managed their cost of education till now. 

When the Covid-19 pandemic started, the cost of education and managing the cost of two children. WhenCyclone Amphan affected the area where they lived  the situation became impossible. Bodrul Mia was still trying to survive using their land and pond, but the recent floods stopped their way to cultivate rice and fish as well. Now he is thinking about marrying  Bithi off since it has become almost impossible for him to continue to bear the basic cost of two children, let alone education and other basic needs. 

This scenario might seem familiar to you as well. Not only in a rural area but education in urban areas has also been affected heavily during this dual crisis, especially when it comes to  a teenage girl’s education. 

A family I know personally, who are currently living in Mirpur, Dhaka has also displayed such behaviour of favouring one child’s education over the other. The parents are prioritizing their son’s education over their daughter’s. This is why when both of them have class at the same time they let their son use their device to join the online class depriving their daughter. From their perspective, if you invest in the education of the son in the family, he will later take care of you when you are old; but the girl will likely be gone to her husband’s house. 

This kind of discrimination become more visible during moments of crisis. Climate-induced extreme events like floods, cyclones, and storm surges have become more frequent in recent years. Bangladesh is one of the major hotspots for climate change due to its geographical and hydrometeorological setting. Consequently, our socio-economic vulnerability to climate change also increases since the majority of livelihoods are dependent on agriculture. 

The current pandemic compounded by Cyclone Amphan and the recent floods has made life for those living in rural parts of the country more difficult, as people are having to recover from multiple shocks. Education is one of the many sectors that has been seriously affected during this dual crisis moment. 

Education institutions have been closed since March 17 due to the pandemic. Recent flood water has seriously affected 3,472 schools and washed away 20 government schools according to the directorate of primary education. Many institutions have been destroyed by riverbank erosion; many have been utilized as shelters for those who have been displaced. 

The government has taken initiatives like broadcasting classes on television, making the internet more accessible and internet packages more affordable. However, some areas are out of cellphone coverage, many families have uneven access to the internet and many just can’t afford the added cost. 

Almost 8 hundred thousand students are facing learning losses (Care Bangladesh, 2020) and young girls are more likely to drop out of school in such a moment of crisis. Socially constructed roles and responsibilities, uneven distribution of power and resources, low economic opportunities make people vulnerable to any crisis. The two scenarios that we explored  at the beginning of this article  are just an insight into the gender inequality that exists in our society. 

Men and women, boys and girls are facing this dual crisis differently and it is needless to say that girls are the ones who are most vulnerable. For instance, communication to local roads (which can be affected due to extreme events) can heavily influence the challenge for teenage girls to access education, with families not allowing girls to travel alone in fear of their safety, where boys are allowed to go as it is considered they can manage. 

Displacement of families in river-dominated areas is one of the major reasons for girls dropping out  of schools and studies show that a large proportion of the migrated people are women. Not only physical or infrastructural settings make it harder for women to access  education, but also the mental or social construction of our communities which heavily influences it. In a telephone survey, Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) found that the child marriage rate is likely to increase during moments of shocks. 

As the intensity of extreme events is increasing each year and causing infrastructural damage, thus societal issues related to these crises are making  women more vulnerable in case of access to education. In order to build a sustainable, climate-smart and disaster-resilient educational system in our country where 49.4% (World Bank, 2019) of the total population are women, we should not overlook mainstreaming gender dimensions in Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) and Disaster Risk Reduction (DDR) framework.

Faiyad H Rishal is an undergraduate student studying Geography and Environment at Jahangirnagar University. He is currently affiliated with ICCCAD as a participant in RISE youth leadership program.

Adiba Bintey Kamal works as a project associate at ICCCAD.