COVID-19 is wreaking havoc with education globally. In many countries schools remain closed, while inequality grows for children stuck at home - especially girls. While the usual ICS placements have ground to a halt, since April, the programme has pivoted to harness the passion of ICS volunteers in their home countries. Find out what ICS volunteers have been doing to help.
Tackling taboos in Nepal
COVID-19 may have temporarily closed schools in Nepal, but it hasn’t stopped ICS volunteers in their support of girls’ education. While the country has an impressive rate of 96% primary school enrolment, over time, girls’ participation dwindles, with just 25% of girls entering further education. There are many reasons for this, one of which is menstruation. With stigma surrounding menstruation, and a lack of facilities to cope with their periods while at school, girls often miss large chunks of their education each month or drop out altogether.
Over the past few months of lockdown, ICS national volunteers have reached over 130 girls through virtual and in-person COVID-secure training sessions on menstrual hygiene and reusable pad making. They’ve also created a tutorial video on how to make sanitary pads, which has been viewed over 300 times online so far.
For the team behind this innovative idea, Reetika, Johnson, Daya, Saijal and Dipesh, these sessions are about much more than learning to make sanitary pads. They aim to empower girls to be confident in their education and in themselves:
"As fellow youths educated in a similar system, we hope to make these sisters learn and practice what we could not in our schools – to comprehend their talent, capability, and freedom to express individualism with confidence."
Supporting girls in Kenya to stay in school
In Kenya, continuing your education as a pregnant teenager is rarely an option.
With teenage pregnancies rising at an alarming rate over lockdown, ICS youth are stepping up to challenge assumptions and support girls in their education. In the county of Machakos, young people are working with community volunteers to conduct needs assessments and plan sexual and reproductive health sessions with teenage girls. With each additional year of education in Kenya leading to an estimated 25% increase in income as an adult, supporting these young girls to continue in their education is paramount.
Empowering girls doesn't stop when they leave school. ICS youth are supporting girls already out of the education system in Makueni with training in skills like bead and soap making. Recognising the need to enable women not just to work, but to achieve economic autonomy, they’re also providing training on money management and saving, encouraging teenage girls and women locked out of education to reclaim their power and voice.
Influencing decision makers in the UK
Recognising that there are many barriers for young people, particularly women, to engage with decision makers, VSO recently invited a group of ICS volunteers to share their experiences of girls’ education with the UK Government's Department for International Development (now the FCDO).
The UK government’s ambition is to ensure girls globally have access to 12 years of quality education. Reflecting on their ICS experience and views of gender equality, ICS alumni influenced policy and decision makers’ understanding of how young people can uniquely make contributions to this important governmental aim.
This was an exciting opportunity for young people to bring their ideas, questions and concerns to a higher level. Whilst it is evident that barriers to education differ depending on country context, this discussion highlighted the similarities in young people’s approaches to supporting girls to break through these barriers.
For ICS alumna and former teacher, Emma Wildsmith, joining this session provided her with a platform to share her experiences of education in British schools and from her placement in Nigeria. It increased her understanding of girls’ education globally as she discussed with participants from Nepal, Tanzania and the UK, sharing and comparing experiences and actions.
The session shone a light on the value of youth-led, inclusive action, such as mentoring and youth advocacy work, where young people are empowered to take the lead on supporting girls within their communities to access education.