Decolonizing COVID-19 Gender Data

Anti-racism and Decoloniality
Coronavirus (COVID-19)

This article is part of the Committing to Change: Girls’ EiE from Charlevoix to COVID-19 blog series. 

EM2030’s partners and G7 Leaders through the Charlevoix Declaration agree that gender data is essential for girls’ education in emergencies (EiE). More timely, reliable, sex-disaggregated data on women and girls is needed, especially as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic in emergencies. But is this enough? 

To what extent is local influence driving the collection and use of data in responding to COVID-19 for Girls’ EiE? Who is collecting and processing this data, and why? Whose priorities are centred? Who are the collectors, producers, and sources that are trusted? Are we repeating colonial and patriarchal patterns and practice in collecting, analysing, and using data? Are we ensuring the safety and security of frontline data collectors? In a world that is still mostly under lockdown where we must rely on local communities, are we using this opportunity to shift the power in the generation and use of data? These questions are essential given the long-term and global implications of COVID-19 on Education in Emergencies.

According to Education Cannot Wait, “education has been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic with 1.53 billion learners out of school and 184 country-wide school closures, impacting 87.6% of the world’s total enrolled learners.” The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting school closures have exacerbated existing challenges for women and girls and diminished financing for girls’ education in emergencies. The pandemic is an increasingly critical barrier to girls’ EiE in Sub Saharan Africa. 

International organizations and government agencies have been doing extensive work in implementing and supporting short- and medium-term responses to enable education to continue, especially for women and girls in emergencies. Much of this work is however framed by international media and organisations’ assumptions based on data from the Ebola and SARS pandemics, information that needs to be updated and adapted to the varying contexts. Much of what we think we know about the impact of COVID-19, and what we are responding to as a result, at least in Sub Saharan Africa, is driven primarily by narrow perspectives – often with little regard for local views or analyses from in-country local practitioners and experts.

Driving equitable data collection

Equal Measures 2030’s SDG Gender Equality Index and Bending the Curve Report track and analyse data on girls’ education around the world. The Government of Canada, in line with its commitments in the Charlevoix Declaration, and its Feminist International Assistance Foreign policy, is supporting a bold partnership with Equal Measures 2030 and its partners, The Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) and Initiative Pananetugri pour le Bien-être de la Femme (IPBF) based in Kenya and Burkina Faso, to drive equitable and coordinated provision of education for girls and women. 

Some observations stemming from this partnership include:

FAWE has observed that in Kenya, many learners have not returned to school, and officials are unable to account for their whereabouts. Data they have pieced together from government reports and local media reports show that school closures have exposed girls to early/unwanted pregnancies, child marriage, child labour, domestic violence, child abuse and other forms of child exploitation. With the loss of livelihoods particularly in low-income households, some children have been forced into income-generating activities to support their families. School closures have also reduced girls access to school feeding programs and sanitary towels, which were previously distributed at schools. this has increased the prevlance of young girls being forced to engage in transactional sex to gain not only access to these essential needs but also to support their families. 

Despite investments in digital and virtual learning, vulnerable students have been unable to access lessons due to a lack of electronic devices and reliable internet access at home. This has worsened inequality in access and increased the learning gap, especially for women and girls. 

In Burkina Faso, IPBF has observed many of  the same challenges. In conflict affected areas, many schools remain closed for safety reasons. There are reports of teachers being threatened, even murdered; and girls being kidnapped and raped. 

In our work with FAWE and IPBF, it has become increasingly evident that local women’s organisations and movements have a deep understanding and lived experiences of challenges and barriers that different groups of girls and women face in EiE constituencies. They are frontline responders in emergencies. They are collecting and sharing stories that matter and that aim to move policymakers to act. International organizations and government agencies rely on these groups to reach communities and provide citizen generated data and/or access to their researchers. FAWE is currently working with grassroots women’s rights organisations (WROs) in refugee host communities in Turkana and urban refugee communities of Eastleigh in Nairobi County in Kenya to document and tackle barriers to girls’ education in emergency and influence systemic change. IPBF is undertaking community-based data collection that will provide an additional layer of analysis and contextualization for the country-wide EiE ecosystem. 

So why are local WROs often invisible in policy making and decision-making spaces?

There is under-explored potential to better engage local women’s rights organisations and movements in EiE planning and programming - especially in ways that are not purely extractive. In a world that is still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more urgent to recognize and reinforce the role of WROs in data production and use in emergencies. When decisions are informed by the grassroots knowledge of women and girls who understand the real barriers and challenges they are facing, we will not only begin to shift the power in the EiE ecosystem, but deliver more responsive, tailored and effective solutions.

About the Author: Nadia Ahidjo leads EM2030’s work on Girls’ Education in Emergencies in Sub-Saharan Africa. She is a feminist global development professional with a commitment to the application of gender analysis in philanthropy, advocacy, and policy work. She maintains robust experience, over 13 years, in supporting women’s rights in numerous country contexts, and across all regions of Sub-Saharan Africa.