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Messa report: Evaluation of adolescent girls and young women’s access to education during COVID-19 in the Middle East, East, and Southern Africa

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Executive summary

BACKGROUND

Governments and aid actors in the Middle East and East Southern Africa (MEESA) have taken several measures to address both the primary and secondary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in countries in the region. These measures have had significant success in preventing the spread of COVID-19, providing critical treatment and care and to cushion communities from the adverse economic and social impacts of the pandemic. However, these have also fallen short in addressing the gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have further weakened the protection environment and heightened risks faced by vulnerable groups especially women and girls and displaced communities. The continued closure of schools has exposed millions of young women and adolescent girls to increasing protection risks and severely threatens their futures are girls out of schools are less likely to resume. Plan International is committed to ensure that the needs of children, and especially adolescent girls and young women are central in the response to and recovery and on track to building resilience from the impacts of COVID-19 across countries in MEESA. In this regard, the MEESA Regional Hub (MEESA RH) thought a research consultant undertook an evaluation of the COVID-19 response and recovery efforts across countries in the region.

PURPOSE

The main objective of the study was to undertake an evaluation of the COVID-19 response and recovery efforts across countries in the (MEESA) region, by; analysing the evolution of the response by actors in the region, reviewing Plan International’s contribution to the COVID-19 response and develop actionable recommendations. The study had the following specific objectives.

  1. To analyse the evolution of the response by actors in the region (governments and aid actors), noting the successes and challenges to ensuring that adolescent girls and young women have access to continued, quality learning during the first year of the pandemic response.

  2. To review Plan International’s contribution to the COVID-19 response in selected operational countries and across the region.

  3. To develop actionable recommendations for governments in the region as well as aid actors with the goal of ensuring enhanced protection, continued access to quality education and the enjoyment of rights adolescent girls and young women across the region.

METHODOLOGY

The evaluation utilised a rapid assessment evaluation design through employing a mix-method approach to gather contextual, social, and institutional information quickly and efficiently. The evaluation was conducted at multi-levels with multi-sector engagements.

KEY FINDINGS

  • The evaluation reveals that COVID-19 had a twofold impact on the education sector. On one hand, the crisis provided an opportunity for the sector to strengthen implementation of interventions

  • With regards the strengthened interventions on learning during this period, the study notes positive collaborative efforts across multiple sectors and stakeholders such as health, agriculture, private sector, and civil society organisation (CSOs). This approach has been one of the critical elements in facilitating continuation of learning during a pandemic.

  • In addition, community-based learning interventions, outside of the traditional school environment had proven to be a critical enabler of reaching learners at household level, especially the girls.

  • A fundamental finding on the evaluation was the importance of creating safe spaces for young girls as part of their access to learning. The heightened need for safety for adolescent girls and young women as they accessed learning was due to protection concerns because of the pandemic.

  • Furthermore, an integration of key supporting interventions within the education sector such as WASH, Sexual and Reproductive Health, Safety and Protection and Cash Support is crucial in ensuring learners are comprehensively supported.

  • Finally, the evaluation identified key challenges and barriers associated with adolescent girls and young women in their plight to access learning during the pandemic. The main challenge identified was the impact COVID-19 had on the livelihood efforts of households which ultimately had an impact on the education sector. Barriers outlined in the evaluation include the harmful and/ or negative gender norms, increase in unwanted pregnancies and gender-based violence, limited access to technology and high illiteracy levels among most parents and caregivers of learners.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Enhance multi-level and multisectoral response for continued access to learning during a pandemic such as COVID-19 by strengthening education technical working groups working on continued access to learning. The response to be embedded in the national COVID-19 response management systems to ensure that the aid actors are part of decision-making process at all levels to strengthen influence.

  • Strengthen financing for education initiatives at both regional and domestic level through developing and/or maintaining financing platforms. Such initiatives should be earmarked for supporting most vulnerable groups such as adolescent girls and young women and young people living with disabilities.

  • Strengthen community-based learning hubs to enable access to learning for girls within their communities and catchment. Adopt community learning interventions across the region to leverage or strengthen already existing community structures.

  • Consideration of a holistic (integrated) approach to learning that includes Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) as a critical pillar in addition to SRH, Economic Empowerment, Protection, WASH etc. In addition to other interventions by the aid actors and government, it is important to include Public Health approaches to the education/learning portfolio. The inclusion of IPC for example, will be crucial for any future programming on learning especially when there is a pandemic.

  • Re-think Gender transformative programming which requires even more emphasis in a period of pandemic due to multi-layered vulnerabilities faced particularly by adolescent girls and women.

  • Leverage Public and Private Partnership aimed at enabling collaboration of education initiatives. For example, participation of ISP1 and Mobile/Phone companies to support interventions that make use of technology. This effort can also be targeted at improving the internet access across rural/remote areas.