|© UNICEF/ HQ99-0399/ Thomas|
|Kosovar refugee children sit at desks working in exercise books in a UNICEF "tent school". TFYR Macedonia.|
At any given time, between a quarter and a third of the countries that UNICEF is working in are affected by emergencies arising from conflict, economic crises, natural disasters or a combination of these. Globally, some 25 million people are displaced and 20 million are refugees.
Only 1 in 10 refugee girls of school age attends school.
Schools are particularly vulnerable in emergencies. They are often used as barracks by the military, shelter for refugees, or sites for other emergency services. Moreover, schools are almost always targeted in conflict. As a result, millions of children are denied their right to quality basic education. Girls and women are affected the most, both because of historical gender biases and because the social norms and actions that might serve to protect the most vulnerable ordinarily tend to break down during emergencies.
The traditional domestic division of labour in many parts of the world means that girls are often required to assist in maintaining day-to-day family life. This situation is heightened in times of crisis. Moreover, issues of safety and security are of even greater concern during periods of instability. With the social disintegration and chaos that emerges in times of crisis, comes increased likelihood of intimidation, exploitation and even rape.
Women, and sometimes young girls, are forced to become single heads of households due to family disintegration from poverty, illness and war. Yet they are often ill equipped to carry out this role. Women and girls are usually excluded from decision-making, even when they may be responsible for implementing decisions and often bear the burden of their consequences.
Education can play a critical role in enabling women and girls to assert themselves and to develop the skills and competencies necessary to cope with emergencies.