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Girls and young women in vulnerable communities around the world often do not have access to quality education and distance learning opportunities and have therefore been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
UNESCO estimates that 11 million girls might not return to school this year due to the disruption caused by COVID-19, threatening decades of progress towards gender equality. As well as being excluded from education, the crisis puts girls at risk of adolescent pregnancy, early and forced marriage and violence. For many of them, school is a lifeline that provides not only education but meals, emotional support and essential health-related guidance.
The University of Cape Coast (UCC), Ghana seeks to address these challenges by supporting young women and out-of-school girls in managing their health and engaging in new livelihood opportunities. The UCC initiative forms part of UNESCO-UNEVOC’s COVID-19 response project – Strengthening the Responsiveness, Agility and Resilience of TVET Institutions for the Post-COVID-19 Era. The project supports UCC’s interventions in two key areas. First, to train community health workers and volunteers who can gain competence to undertake temporary engagement in the community, with a focus on supporting the needs of girls and young women. Second, to transfer entrepreneurial skills to pregnant adolescents and teenage mothers through engaging in local micro ventures that are relevant during the pandemic.
Christina Boateng, UNEVOC Centre Coordinator at UCC says, “In one of the districts we work in, because of school closures and closure of businesses during the pandemic, there has been a sudden upsurge of teenage pregnancy – over 300 girls in the district”. The initiative sees healthcare workers and volunteers organize clinics in their rural communities and provide counselling, nutritional support and mentoring to vulnerable, at-risk girls.
Training healthcare workers and volunteers
Around 50 healthcare volunteers have been selected from the community for training in counselling, communication and cultural competency to work with adolescent girls in all aspects of their lives, including economic, social and health. The training “will equip the volunteers with health assessment skills,” Ms Boateng notes.
This type of training improves volunteers’ chances of earning a living", Ms Boateng says. “It helps them gain skills they can use in their next project, or they can use the training certificates if they plan to look for employment.”
The programme also focuses on teaching entrepreneurial skills to pregnant teenagers and young mothers to enable them to set up their own micro businesses from which they can earn money for their upkeep.
“We are teaching them how to use foodstuffs available within their local community to prepare food and drinks and even baby food. They can eat these for their own nutrition or sell some for income” explains Ms Boateng. “They will also learn how to prepare and sell household cleaning agents and hygiene products – hand sanitizers for instance, utilizing opportunities brought about by the pandemic,” she adds.