Ignoring widowhood as a key driver of removing children from school is a grave mistake
An estimated 128 million primary and secondary aged children are out school in crisis–affected countries. During conflict, schools are often destroyed. In Afghanistan now, as I write this article, progress on educating a whole generation of girls is now in jeopardy. Students are left without access to school which is so much more than just a place of learning. It’s also valued as a safe space where you can access healthcare, protection, advice and support – even if it is only sporadic. For marginalized, at-risk girls in particular, this space can represent a lifeline.
Protecting the rights of the most marginalized often ‘invisible’ children is critical during conflict, pandemic and life-course events such as COVID_19, the widow-maker, leaving families in crisis. Ensuring children have access to education protects their rights, instills a sense of continuity, fosters resilience and supports their mental healthcare.
Margaret Owen, President and founder of Widows for Peace through Democracy, used the title of this article to insist on the priority of keeping the most marginalized girls in school. Many of those girls are the daughters of widows.
A prescient remark because July saw the 2-Day Global Education Summit (GES) which raised some $4billion to support more children into education against the background of the negative impacts of the pandemic. It seems a lot to raise but against that sum look at the global billionaires who would rather put their cash into space exploration rather than fund children’s education.
Our message from WPD is that we urge governments, donors and funders – and also beneficiaries of funding -to rigorously ensure those girls and boys too, kept in the shadows of marginalization, fragile settings and extreme poverty are the primary recipients of some of this new funding: in refugee camps and IDP camps too.
Margaret noted to the conference that WPD has written to President Kenyatta via the Kenyan High Commission, confident that he is at least well aware in his own country how abandoned and impoverished widows unable to afford school fees are more likely to take their daughters out of education, thus driving up the incidence of child marriage and FGM.
At WPD through our wonderful partners and networkers who send us regular updates, we know that the daughters of widows, if they are not in school, become vulnerable to traffickers, prostitution and unsafe working practices and behaviours. All marginalized children become vulnerable to child labour, child-soldiery, radicalization and unaccompanied migration.
Getting food on the family table is a key driver of girls in particular, leaving school early. Education that is truly accessible to all requires holistic funding packages alongside social protection, healthcare and access to proper internet and digital platforms.
Uhuru Kenyatta, President of the Republic of Kenya at the GES said:
“I call on my fellow Heads of State to endorse the domestic financing statement and to commit at least 20 percent of your domestic budgets to education, this will ensure that we keep our promises to our children to secure their future through quality and inclusive education.”
Governments across the world our message from WPD to you is: “we will be watching you and holding you to account on behalf of all children who have no voice”.
To quote Margaret again “Ignoring Widowhood as a key driver of removing children from school is a grave mistake”.
At WPD we will continue to hold governments to their promises with our cherished links to the UN and similar international government bodies to ensure widowhood is never ignored and the right to education for all children is paramount.
Alice Fookes, WPD Trustee, September 2021.