The gendered impact of the Covid-19 school closures places girls at higher risk of dropout

A record number of learners around the world have been affected by school closures — amounting to over 60% of the world’s student population[1] The level of the impact depends on a household’s socio-economic circumstances, access to resources, and gender-specific vulnerabilities.

In South Africa and other developing countries, school closures carry a high risk for marginalised girls because of exposure to sexual exploitation and teenage pregnancy while outside the classroom[2]

“Protracted school closures exacerbate gender inequalities, which is why girls are particularly vulnerable to dropout,” says Merle Mansfield, Programme Director of the Zero Dropout Campaign.

“The longer a child is away from the classroom and loses that important attachment to schooling, the less likely they are to return, especially if the connection was tenuous or strained to begin with,” Mansfield explains.

It becomes difficult to maintain a connection to learning if girls are under pressure to care for younger siblings, sick family members or are responsible for household chores while schools remain closed.

Lessons from past crises

During the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, adolescent pregnancy increased by up to 65% in some communities, and in numerous cases the burden of domestic responsibilities triggered dropout among girls in countries hard hit by the epidemic[3]Ibid.

The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered disruptions at every level of society from increased hunger to an estimated 3 million job losses between February and April this year[4]

Research shows that when poor households are under increased financial pressure, parents may be more likely to cut back on investing in girls than boys[5]

“Past crises have shown that school closures coupled with severe economic disruptions lead to an increase in dropout,” Mansfield points out.

For instance, in the wake of an economic crisis in Venezuela, the number of girls that were out of school increased by 60 percent between 2015 and 2017[6]Ibid.

Gender-responsive strategies

“We know from local and international experience that girls face specific challenges pushing and pulling them away from school so we need to implement strategies to support them,” says Mansfield.

She says that school reintegration plans must be responsive to gender-specific vulnerabilities that exist in our communities.

“Some of the policy proposals emerging internationally are the use of re-enrolment campaigns to minimise dropout, and the implementation of targeted support programmes,” Mansfield adds.

For instance, countries affected by the Ebola crisis were encouraged to prioritise community awareness campaigns to increase re-enrolment once schools reopened, and this could best be achieved with input from teachers and parents[7]

“Through the work of our NGO implementing partners, we can see first-hand how psychosocial support and mentoring are helping at-risk learners to stay on track while schools are closed,” Mansfield concludes.

For more information or to arrange interviews, contact Zero Dropout Campaign Communications Lead, Rahima Essop.


3, 6 Ibid
5, 7