Activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai says the coronavirus pandemic will cost millions of girls worldwide their education.
The 23-year-old University of Oxford graduate, cover star of British Vogue's July edition, told the magazine that Covid-19 had drastically affected progress made over 20 years as many young women were being forced to abandon their education.
“It’s because these girls are now in their homes and they now have more family work to do, they’re asked to do family chores, they’re asked to become financial supporters for their family," she said.
“All these girls are pushed into early child marriages and many of these girls may never be able to return to school.
“This is something that we saw in the Ebola crisis as well and this is the fear that I have for girls – that they will lose their education because of this pandemic.”
In February, the UN predicted the pandemic would cause years of lost learning because of a lack of stimulus spending on education.
Its research showed that education received just 0.8 per cent of the global economic packages designed to mitigate the pandemic.
It also showed that two thirds of the world’s poorest countries reduced their first post-Covid education budget, compared with one third of the world's richest countries.
The effects of these cuts would be disproportionately felt by girls, the UN said, concerns that led Unicef this year to launch a digital learning passport aimed at redressing the gender divide.
The need to close this gap prompted Ms Yousafzai in 2013 to found the Malala Fund, a charity that champions girls’ rights to safe, quality education.
Ms Yousafzai questioned the future of disadvantaged young women when circumstances returned "to normal", telling British Vogue that education programmes must be more inclusive.
“What does it mean for their education, especially now that we are shifting towards more education that is based on technology and more digital education?” she said.
“The challenge ahead is to ensure that education is inclusive, that we bring in policies that are inclusive and that take girls into account.”
Ms Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman at the age of 15 after campaigning for girls in her native Pakistan to be educated.
She became a globally renowned advocate of the rights of girls and women around the world.
Her work was rewarded with the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2015, and in March this year she signed a deal with Apple TV+ to produce programmes to advance her cause.