Friday, December 3, 2021

Taking stock of girls’ progress in the Covid-19 era

Although the International Day of the Girl Child was low key in Botswana as a result of coronavirus restrictions which prohibit large gatherings, this past Sunday Arts & Society spoke Dr. Kefilwe Rangobana to assess how the girl child in Botswana has fared in the Covid-19 era

The International Day of the Girl Child is an international observance day declared by the United Nations (UN) which supports more opportunity for girls and increases awareness of gender inequality faced by girls based upon their gender. Dr. Kefilwe Rangobana says this year’s event was held under the theme – “Digital generation. Our generation” which aims to close the digital gender divide in connectivity, devices and use; brings into focus the issues facing the girl child in Botswana. “Girls in Botswana are less likely than boys to use and own devices. This is why there is a low uptake of women in STEM related or tech-related skills and jobs. The digital revolution can be ushered in by addressing this inequity and exclusion,” she says. Female students in Botswana currently represent only 30 per cent of students enrolled in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) related fields.

She says while she pays tribute to adolescent girls in Botswana and applauds the significant progress the country has made in uplifting their status, it is critical to highlight the vulnerabilities that girls face in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. “I am not trying to be alarmist but simply trying to trigger a strong, coherent and innovative response from the Botswana government and society,” she says.

Although the risk of child marriages is currently very low in Botswana, the first national lockdown which lasted 48 days resulted in almost 120 young girls being impregnated. “During the first national lockdown where almost the entire country was forced to stay at home, girls were exposed to domestic violence and early pregnancy. Covid-19 resulted in early pregnancies which reduces the chances of girls being able to pursue their aspirations and dreams,” says Dr. Rangobana. 

Dr. Rangobana also says violence against girls which we have witnessed the past few months is also a grave violation of human rights and a form of discrimination. “The Coronavirus pandemic is putting the girl child at risk of being deprived of their rights such as the fundamental right to manage one’s body and consent to sexual intercourse. This is why Botswana is the second highest country globally when it comes to rape,” she says.

Dr. Rangobana highlighted that promoting girls’ rights requires a commitment to guarantee that policies and laws are fully enforced and that supportive services are available. “Despite the numerous difficulties, girls in Botswana are breaking boundaries and barriers posed by stereotypes and exclusion, including those directed at children with disabilities and those living in marginalised communities,” she says.

Amongst other things, Dr. Rangobana says discrimination against girls in school continues to be a challenge. Unlike in other countries where girls are allowed to attend school if they are pregnant, in Botswana it is a different story. “There is need for girls to be at the centre of policy-making processes and contribute to the design of age-sensitive social protection schemes. We must value the disproportionate share of household chores carried by young girls and ensure access to vocational training and economic resources,” she says.

Finally, as the world commemorates the International Day of the Girl Child, Dr Rangobana says the Botswana government has a unique opportunity to re-think societies and address long-lasting structural inequalities. International Day of the Girl Child has been observed since 2011, when the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/170 in recognition of and commitment to address the unique challenges girls face in the world. 

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