Protect gains so far made in protection of girl rights
The International Day of the Girl Child 2020 (yesterday) comes at a time when we are at risk of losing decades of progress made towards girls rights to the Covid-19 pandemic.
We recently marked the 25th year since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action which was presided over by more than 30,000 women and men from nearly 200 countries in Beijing, China, during the Fourth World Conference on Women. This was signed as the most comprehensive policy agenda for gender equality.
‘My Voice, Our Equal Future’ is the theme of international girl’s day this year, which centres on Sustainable Development Goal of gender equality and calls for more deliberate energy towards the elimination of gender-based violence, harmful practices and girls living free from HIV/Aids.
When Covid-19 landed in Kenya, the government responded by imposing a cessation of movement, curfew, advising non-essential state and non-state personnel to work from home, shutdown of learning institutions and physical distancing restrictions to contain spread of the virus, which have seemingly contributed to the reduction of community spread.
Besides the health and economic challenges that have been encountered due to the virus, girls’ needs and rights are increasingly exposed to ravaging by secondary effects of the pandemic.
Kenya has made great strides in empowering the girl child and protecting her rights with policies and programmes that compel the government to provide free, sufficient and quality sanitary towels to every girl enrolled in public education institution to keep them in school.
Kenya also committed to the prevention of and response to school related gender violence, through the Education and Training Sector Gender Policy (2015) which recommends establishing modalities of dealing with Sexual and Gender Based Violence and tightening coordination of stakeholders involved in providing safe learning for boys and girls.
These and other interventions t to protect and promote girls’ rights makes it clear that Kenya has invested widely in systems and institutions in safeguarding the voice and the future of girls.
It has been evident in recent months, schools act as a safe haven that protect girls from early pregnancies, early marriage, harmful cultural practices like female genital mutilation and other negative sexual reproductive health outcomes.
This means the closure of schools due Covid-19 could lead to hundreds of girls dropping out of school when they re-open (starting today), especially those in rural and isolated communities hence reversing progress made in increasing girls equitable access to education.
This could be necessitated by the increased incidents of adolescent pregnancies and early marriage.
The closure of schools and spread of the virus creates more challenges in accessing menstrual hygiene products and sexual and reproductive health information and services consequently increasing existing reproductive health risks among girls.
The government and other stakeholders need to go beyond mobile numbers and hotlines.
We need to ensure girls are able to access enough menstrual dignity packs, which can sustain them for a longer period of time.
Increase community surveillance against female genital mutilation and other harmful practices, strengthen adolescent health friendly programmes in accordance with the Adolescent and Youth Friendly Sexual Reproductive Health Policy and Guidelines (2015).
The Ministry of Education should include robust mechanism of enforcing the school re-entry policy in the re-opening plans to ensure girls who got pregnant resume learning within six months after giving birth. — The writer is reproductive health advocate