In this fourth installment of our documentary, four weeks have passed since the girls allowed us to take a look at their world, but over time, the covid-19 situation has evolved. With the increase in infections, in many countries the impact of the virus begins to hit closer to home and the effects are felt.
Before the pandemic, gender inequality already limited the ability of many girls to access education. Now, as some schools reopen after lockdowns, COVID-19 adds a new series of complications that further reduce their access to education and some girls suffer more than others. Although the pandemic is making it difficult for these girls to keep up with their studies, and despite the confinement in Nepal, Madhu continues to do everything possible to learn from home. “Because of the coronavirus, my father and mother are concerned about our education and that we may forget what we have learned so far […] One of the problems my family faces is that there is no money to buy us books and other supplies. That’s why I took the money that I saved with my brothers and we bought books and pens to study, ”explains this young woman.
For many girls, accessing education before the global health crisis was already a problem. Now there is a very real threat that the virus will further exacerbate discrimination and inequality, and create yet another barrier for girls. But beyond the lack of access to education, there are other harmful practices that discriminate against them. In many countries, the practice of female genital mutilation is a deeply ingrained social norm that stems from gender inequality. All over the world, there are at least 200 million girls and women who have been subjected to this ritual, which consists of performing a total or partial excision of the female genital organs or any other injury to them for non-medical reasons. In Mali, it is estimated that almost nine out of 10 girls and women have suffered from it. “I feel sorry for girls whose parents send them to do this to them. I don’t think it’s good because it complicates the lives of your daughters. Currently, the authorities do not punish the parents harshly, so they do what they want with their daughters, ”Laetititia laments from Chad.
In Mali, it is estimated that almost nine out of 10 girls and women have suffered female genital mutilation
While families in countries like Chad keep the practice secret, families in other countries do not. In Indonesia, despite the practice being illegal, almost one in two girls has undergone cutting, which is often more openly accepted from a cultural point of view. “In my area girls are circumcised too, usually when they are around five, six or even seven years old. Normally girls who are circumcised wear a seven-layer bodo dress. It is the traditional clothing of Bugis. When she is circumcised, her parents celebrate a party, ”explains Zulfa, from Indonesia.
Many of the countries with high rates of female genital mutilation have outlawed the ritual, but in most of them, the practice continues, even though less is said about it. Now, with lockdowns and social distancing measures around the world, it’s more important than ever to keep paying attention to it and keep talking about it. If we want the situation to change, we have to make sure that we see and hear the problems of these girls.
Nankali Maksud is a senior consultant for the Unicef malpractice team and Kristin Andersson he is an officer in the child protection section of UNICEF.
The section En Primera Línea is a space in Planeta Futuro in which members of NGOs, organizations and international institutions, who work in the field, narrate their personal experiences in relation to the impact of their activity. They are always written in the first person and the responsibility for the content rests with the authors.