EU & UNICEF launch project to mitigate impact of COVID-19 on adolescent girls
The European Union (EU) has partnered with UNICEF to implement a two-year project aimed at mitigating the Impact of COVID-19 on girls and other vulnerable populations.
Nkosiyenzile Gama, a female student at St. Theresa High School is one of over 2000 learners who were reported to have fallen pregnant by the end of 2021 as a result of prolonged school closures due to COVID-19. She recalls the fateful day she discovered that she was pregnant at a public toilet in Manzini while her two friends waited for the results of the pregnancy test with bated breath. She had decided to buy a pregnancy test kit after missing her menstrual period.
She recalls how she saw her dreams crumbling in front of her eyes when two red lines appeared on the kit. “What are you going to do?”, her friends enquired. “Maybe you should do an abortion”, they advised her.
“I was so confused, and I couldn’t sleep nor eat for days. I then decided to ask a family friend to speak to my mother on my behalf…to say she was disappointed is an understatement”, adds Nkosiyenzile.
Even though was she was faced with a new obstacle that suddenly threatened to jeopardize her future, Nkoyisenzile states that she was certain about one thing; she wanted to continue learning.
“The next morning after my mother was told about the pregnancy, I still took my books and went to school in spite the fact that she was visibly dejected. But when I came home that day, she told me that she was taking me home to a meeting with the extended family on that weekend”, she adds.
She narrates how when she finally met the extended family, she was made to sit on the floor surrounded by all the elders including her uncles and aunts to explain why she had disappointed the family.
“You know very well how your mother has struggled as a single parent trying to give you the best education, how can you do this to her?”, Nkosiyenzile recalls being interrogated by one of her uncles.
After all the stigmatization she was subjected to, she explains how she remained committed to continuing with her studies. She states that she convened her classmates and opened up to them about her pregnancy. Instead of stigmatizing her, they envied her for her courage and the strength to embrace the new challenge ahead of her. Nkosiyenzile further expressed profound gratitude to her school administration and teachers for the support she continues to receive, following her reintegration to resume her studies.
In response to the plight of many other adolescent girls who encountered similar challenges to Nkosiyenzile’s experience, the European Union (EU) has partnered with UNICEF to implement a two-year project aimed at mitigating the Impact of COVID-19 on girls and other vulnerable populations. The project which will reach over 200 adolescent girls and boys will provide a comprehensive package of interventions that will mitigate the impact of the pandemic and ultimately put them in a better position to play an active role in Eswatini’s economic recovery from the devastating effects of COVID-19. Over the next two years, numerous programs will be implemented in the areas of education and mental health amongst other interventions for different target populations including adolescents living with disability.
Speaking during the launch of the project at Lamgabhi Inkhundla, EU Ambassador to Eswatini H.E. Dessislava Choumelova stated that the reported teenage pregnancies in the past year meant that the future of these young girls has changed dramatically, and they needed to be helped; not stigmatized and cast away.
“If we create better opportunities for them, they will be better equipped to become active citizens – agents of their own destiny and actors of economic development and positive change”, she added.
The Ambassador further mentioned that the EU’s contribution of approximately E7 million to the project has a primary focus on pregnant adolescents, adolescent mothers, and young people with disabilities with the aim of providing them with access to education through school reintegration, remedial education and drop-out risk reduction targeting children who have lost parents or guardians as a result of COVID-19.
She mentioned that the project is further aimed at empowering young people with skills for employability and livelihood but also with entrepreneurship skills, so that they become self-employed, consequently making a positive contribution to the economic development of the country.
Also making remarks during the launch of the project, UNICEF Representative Amina Mohammed reiterated the call to support adolescent girls as they carried and continue to carry a huge burden of the pandemic. Amina further highlighted that adolescents living with disability have also been disproportionally affected by COVID-19 pandemic.
“Even in the absence of a global threat, children living with disabilities are among the world’s most vulnerable, marginalized and stigmatized populations. For those who won’t be able to return to school for any reason, as partners, we need to find alternative pathways for them to acquire the needed skills that will allow them to earn a living and become active citizen”, she added.