As the world continues to react to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Children Believe, a Canadian organization that works globally to help children overcome barriers to education, is calling for collective action from the international development community to address the deepening digital divide in a COVID-19 world, especially the negative impact it's had on the lives of adolescent girls in developing countries in Africa.
On February 10th, 2021 at 10:00 AM EST, Children Believe and Graça Machel Trust will host the Canada-Africa Panel on Overcoming Barriers to Education for Girls in Sub-Saharan Africa in a COVID 19 World. This event will highlight the need for greater sector collaboration and funding to improve access to education and innovation to overcome barriers girls in sub-Saharan Africa now face as a result of the pandemic.
The Digital Divide in a Socially Distanced World
Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 47 per cent of out-of-school children worldwide, with over half (54 per cent) of those being girls. Despite efforts from policymakers, gender inequalities persist in the region, with socio-cultural, economic, and political challenges creating barriers to education. Africa is home to 308 million girls under 18 years of age, and three-in-ten girls under the age of 18 face early, forced marriage.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified these conditions. The closing of schools, which were previously a source of refuge from violence and food insecurity, have now forced children to stay at home, often in remote communities and social settings such as Internally Displaced People (IDP) settlements, refugee camps, and urban slums, with no means of access to education.
Girls and young women already have limited opportunities to seek support or access to protective services. With the pandemic cutting many families’ sources of income, underaged girls are being forced into early marriage and pregnancy, which have long-term, life-changing effects, including denial of education.
As part of its COVID-19 initiatives, Children Believe has been working with 19 local partners and supporting 131 fragile, vulnerable, and marginalized communities in Africa to increase access to inclusive and quality education for over 400,000 children.
Children Believe CEO and veteran Canadian humanitarian leader, Fred Witteveen, the panel co-host, will speak to how Children Believe’s partnerships with technology schools in Africa will help girls and women overcome these barriers to education. Fred will share his insights and experiences from more than 15 years working alongside displaced and marginalized communities in Kenya, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, most notably during the Rohingya Refugee Crisis in 2015.
“Children Believe has been a fierce advocate for girls and women around the world for more than 60 years,” says Children Believe CEO, Fred Witteveen. “The impacts of COVID-19 have been felt all over the world, but most critically by girls and women in vulnerable communities, who often serve as the backbone of their families. Additional funding and resources are critical to address the urgent needs faced by girls and women in resource-poor, conflict-ridden, and displacement-prone communities in Africa. In a world increasingly reliant on technology for work and education, already-remote communities fall even further behind. We are so proud and grateful to have the opportunity to hear from one of the world’s most recognized and passionate humanitarian leaders to shed light on this important cause.”
The Graça Machel Trust has partnered with Children Believe to create a unique event and opportunity for participants. Trust founder, The Honourable Madame Graça Machel, a world-renowned African stateswoman, winner of the 1992 Africa Prize and 1995 United Nations Nansen Medal, will share her expertise and insights from a lifetime of advocacy work and politics in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Fighting for gender equality has been my life’s work and is at the centre of everything we do at the Graça Machel Trust,” says Ms. Machel. “We are so grateful for the support of the Canadian government and from our partner, Children Believe, in recognizing the urgent need facing adolescent girls and women in Africa, especially in light of the ongoing pandemic.”
The virtual panel will feature Canadian and African perspectives from a variety of stakeholders including sector leaders, government officials, and youth.
The panelists include:
- Fred Witteveen, Children Believe CEO
- The Honourable Madame Graça Machel, Founder of the Graça Machel Trust
- Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, United Nations Women
- Antoine Chevrier, Director General, Pan African Branch, Global Affairs Canada
- Daniella Asare, biomedical engineering student at Engineering College, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana, and Children Believe Youth Ambassador
- Tanaka Chikati, representative of the Graça Machel Program Area in Zimbabwe, African Leadership Academy
- Leslie MacLean, Deputy Minister of International Development, Government of Canada, will provide her remarks on video
Award-winning CBC News Senior Correspondent, Susan Ormiston, will moderate the panel, bringing her decades-long experience covering major global events in 30 countries including political revolutions, elections and wars, natural disasters and refugees. She is particularly proud of covering both the election and passing of Nelson Mandela.
About Children Believe
Children Believe works globally to empower children to dream fearlessly, stand up for what they believe in — and be heard. For 60 years, we’ve brought together brave young dreamers, caring supporters and partners, and unabashed idealists. Together, we’re driven by a common belief: creating access to education — inside and outside of classrooms — is the most powerful tool children can use to change their world.
About Graça Machel Trust
Graça Machel is one of the world’s leading advocates for women’s and children’s rights and has been a social justice and political activist for many decades. The Graça Machel Trust was founded in 2010 as a Pan-African advocacy organization focused on child health and nutrition, education, women’s economic and financial empowerment, leadership and good governance. Over the last nine years, the Trust has worked to “Multiply the Faces and Amplify the Voices” of African women and children. Through collaboration with partners, at all levels, it has helped promote and strengthen women and children’s networks to drive social and economic change.
The Graça Machel Trust acts as a catalyst, working across the continent to advocate for the protection of children’s rights and dignity, and amplify women’s movements by harnessing and promoting their contributions to the economic, social and political development of Africa. It works with global, regional and local partners who are passionate about creating profound change in these issues. Through advocacy efforts the Trust seeks to influence decision-makers to the change needed in policies and practices, to create societies that value social justice, and promote and protect the rights of women and children.
About ChildFund Alliance
Children Believe is a member of ChildFund Alliance, a global network of 12 child-focused development organizations working to create opportunities for children and youth, their families and communities. ChildFund helps nearly 23 million children and their families in more than 70 countries overcome poverty and underlying conditions that prevent children from achieving their full potential. We work to end violence against children; provide expertise in emergencies and disasters to ease the harmful impact on children and their communities; and engage children and youth to create lasting change and elevate their voices in decisions that affect their lives.
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