20 million girls are at risk of missing out
Research done at the Malala Foundation shows that due to the emergency, women's education is at risk. (Photo: Courtesy)

Malala Yousafzai was the guest speaker at the Tec Forever ceremony celebrating the 6,152 Tec de Monterrey students graduating in December 2020. During her speech, she highlighted the setbacks she’s seen in human rights and climate change due to the global health crisis.

“One thing that took me completely by surprise was the impact of Covid-19 on girls’ education. I realized that things can suddenly change. External factors can have an impact on the progress you’ve already made, on the work you’ve already done,” Malala said.

Covid-19 will have educational consequences that go beyond the period when schools are closed, disproportionately affecting marginalized girls.

“Studies carried out by the Malala Foundation show that more than 20 million girls are at risk of missing out on their education due to this pandemic,” explained the winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for defending the right to education of girls in Pakistan.

The investigation draws upon data from the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, which occurred between 2014 and 2015, when more than 10,000 schools were closed for 8 months to contain the outbreak. This educational measure impacted at least 5 million girls, boys, and adolescents.

Based on that experience, the Malala Foundation estimated the short- and long-term implications of school closures in 188 countries. “This study shows us that many girls have dropped out of their schools due to the pandemic. During this time, they’ve been forced into child marriages or become breadwinners for their families and won’t be going back to school,” Yousafzai stressed.

The youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in history highlighted the importance of education during her speech, a right that was taken away from her at the age of 11 by the Taliban regime in northern Pakistan. “My education was taken away from me. I started speaking on local, national, and international media, including writing blogs for the BBC, and being interviewed for NYT, CNN, and other platforms.”

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A problematic inheritance

“The world you inherit has many problems and this pandemic has made these more apparent. We have reports from Mexico which show that women are facing abuse and violence. When you see that something is wrong, you must speak up. You mustn’t allow these situations to occur. Sometimes it’s just a single voice, a single action, that causes change. Don’t underestimate the impact of actions we’ve just taken,” highlighted Malala, who has recently graduated from Oxford with a degree in philosophy.

Malala expressed her concern over girls’ education. “There’s a lot to do during this pandemic. Problems are ignored. Political leaders are no longer talking about girls’ education. They’re not even mentioning it anymore. So, it’s frustrating when you realize that after so much work, things suddenly change, and you have to start over with a lot more to do because the numbers have dropped.”

The Malala Foundation provides support in more than eight countries, but there’s still a lot to do for education. “This will take years, and as you’ll see, I have a sense of urgency. It doesn’t make me happy to wait many decades or even centuries to see equality in the world. So, we must be more active, more committed to these missions. We need more and more of you to commit to playing a role in this,” the activist concluded.