ISLAMABAD/ NEW YORK: UNICEF said Tuesday that the pandemic has exacerbated the gender inequality and called for prioritizing girls in Covid-19 recovery.

In a statement in connection with the International Women’s Day, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said that the fight for gender equality was 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,” she said.

The statement said that “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,” Russel concluded.

The statement said that Pakistan has made significant progress in advancing the rights of children. Yet many girls continue to lack equitable opportunities to access their rights to education and protection from violence and abuse, and child marriage. Adolescent girls have few opportunities to express their views and to participate in the decisions that affect their lives.

It said that presently an estimated one third of school-aged children in Pakistan (over 21 million children) were out of school; more than half (55 per cent) were girls. There is a need for increased investment to improve access to and quality of learning and skills development for girls, it said.

UNICEF takes the opportunity of the International Women’s Day to urge legislators in all the other provinces in Pakistan to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 years and remains committed to supporting national efforts to end child marriage and accelerate results for girls, it said.

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