We must prioritize girls in our COVID-19 recovery

Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell on International Women’s Day

08 March 2022
Two school girls sitting in their classroom in a school in Bhaktapur
UNICEF Nepal/2019/PShrestha

NEW YORK, 8 March 2022 “On International Women’s Day, we acknowledge the international community’s hard-fought gains for the world’s women and girls. We celebrate the remarkable achievements of women and girls in our societies. And we redouble our commitment to extend those gains to every girl, everywhere.

“But the fight for gender equality is far from over. Indeed, even before COVID-19, gender inequality persisted as the most widespread and significant injustice of our time. But this injustice has been multiplied by the impacts of the pandemic.

“As we enter a third year of COVID-19 and work toward a post-pandemic era, true recovery must be gender equal.

“COVID-19 is devastating the lives of girls. Ongoing school closures, economic stress, and service disruptions are putting the health, wellbeing, and futures of the most vulnerable girls at risk. Globally, over 11 million girls may never go back to school after the pandemic. An additional 10 million girls are at risk of child marriage over the next decade. And, according to UNFPA, two million additional cases of female genital mutilation may occur.

 “As lockdowns force children to spend more time in their homes, girls are shouldering more of the household labour. Many are forced into close quarters with an abuser, separated from the services and communities that help protect them. Gender-based violence, including sexual violence, is on the rise.

“We cannot let a generation of girls bear the cost of this pandemic for the rest of their lives. As we work toward a post-pandemic era, girls must be at the centre of global, national, and local pandemic response and recovery plans.

“That means keeping schools open to allow girls to resume their education, and investing in resources to help those who have fallen behind catch up.

“It means reinvesting in girls’ health and education, including in their sexual and reproductive health and rights, and improving girls’ access to quality menstrual health and hygiene services.

“It means protecting girls from all forms of violence, including harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.

“Empowered girls power progress. Girls all over the world are standing up for their rights and calling for exactly these kinds of steps. We need to listen. Global stability, peace, and prosperity depend on it.

“On International Women’s Day, let’s commit to a girl-focused COVID-19 recovery that helps create a more just and equal post-pandemic world for girls, and a brighter, more peaceful and prosperous future for us all.”


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