Feminist students strike against sexist violence in Madrid, Spain, March 6, 2020.  © 2020 Alberto Sibaja/Pacific Press/Sipa via AP Images

In advance of this International Day of the Girl, celebrated on October 11, girls around the world should hear how their governments plan to change the course of history and create equitable progress for girls everywhere.

Important improvements have been made. More girls now complete primary school than ever, and the last two decades have seen a significant decline in girls forced to marry. But the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted huge gaps in governments’ investments in girls’ rights and the many barriers they still face. Worse yet, the pandemic risks reversing much of the hard-won progress girls have been able to achieve.

Covid-19-related lockdowns and the resultant loss of income for many families, including those already living in poverty before the pandemic, have placed millions of girls at immediate risk of labor exploitation, hunger, child marriage, and gender-based violence, which will force many of them to abandon school. Pandemic-related school closures have affected 1.6 billion students, among them more than 800 million girls, including millions of girls with disabilities.

Unless governments urgently change course, more girls will face obstacles and abuses that have already kept millions from progressing and claiming their rights, including economic barriers like school fees, sexual violence at school, bans against those who are pregnant or mothers, dangers arising from armed forces and groups using their schools, and lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services and information.   

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown the urgency of recovering and building back better. That can only happen if girls are included, both in solutions and decision-making. Governments need to ensure equal access for all girls to free, quality primary and secondary education that is inclusive, accessible, and adequately prepares them for the future. They should provide universal comprehensive sexuality education to equip girls with information about their health and well-being and improve health outcomes.

This International Day of the Girl, girls don’t need more empty platitudes. They need their governments to recognize that Covid-19 has created an enormous crisis, and now is the time to commit to building an equitable future for girls everywhere.