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Researchers reflect on what inspired them to work on gender
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Researchers reflect on what inspired them to work on gender

To mark International Women's Day 2021 we asked three Innocenti researchers to share what inspired them to work on gender issues.  Alessandra Guedes (centre), Gender and Development Research Manager, UNICEF InnocentiAlessandra Guedes has dedicated 20 years of her professional life to promoting children’s and women’s rights and health, including working intensively to end violence against children and against women.I actually didn’t intentionally set out to work on gender and came to the issue in a roundabout way. I often joke that while I started out by studying what, in my opinion, is arguably humanity at its best (I have a degree in studio art!), I ended up working with humanity at its worse: violence against children and against women. How did I get here? Few things are as important to me as social justice and once I started working on the issue of violence prevention over 20 years ago, there was no turning back. globally, one-third of women continue to experience violence at the hands of those who should love and protect them: their partnersMy journey started haphazardly when I was offered a position to work with International Planned Parenthood setting up services for women who had experienced violence within reproductive health clinics in Latin America and the Caribbean. It didn’t take long to become obvious that women’s rights and gender-based violence were areas of work that were spearheaded primarily by women. Women have spent centuries (millennia?) protesting all kinds of injustices committed against them simply because they are women. The same impetus to fight for women’s right to vote or to drive is what keeps us working to change the fact that, globally, one-third of women continue to experience violence at the hands of those who should love and care for them: their partners. While this is the most common form of violence against women and girls, plenty more females experience other forms of gender-based violence, including femicide. While I started working specifically on violence against women and girls, I’ve come to understand that these forms of violence are intimately connected with violence against children and that many drivers are shared across these manifestations of violence.  Equipped with this knowledge, I’m supporting UNICEF to address the gender dimensions of violence against children, including looking for ways to end violence in the home. I am both inspired and grateful to all of the women on whose shoulders I stand. Many have been imprisoned, some have been killed, fighting for equality across gender, race and ethnicity. I hope that my work will add a grain of sand to their heroic efforts. See an example of Alessandra’s research on violence against women and violence against children.   Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed, Gender and Development Research Manager, UNICEF InnocentiZahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed has extensive experience in women's rights and gender equality across organisations and within large-scale development projects.Today, I can say I am a researcher – a qualitative researcher – exploring gender, care work (paid and unpaid) and social protection. But my inspiration started small, and with no name. Growing up I had no terms to make sense of the world I lived in, the world people I knew lived in, the world people I didn’t know, but would observe, lived in.  But there was curiosity, a lot of it. I would search for answers – mostly through books. When I got older, and a little less shy, I ventured beyond the books and would speak to others to find out a bit more. Still, there was no name. Let me dig a little deeper. After all, what is research if not trying to uncover what is unknown and make sense of it?  My inspiration really started with what I would observe inside and outside homes: what girls would do, what boys would do, what women would do, what men would do. Or more, what could be done, and what couldn’t be done. Still, I had no name. Only what I saw (or maybe also what I didn’t see). Over time, I found the words, the terms: that what could or couldn’t be done forms part of the unequal division of labour inside and outside homesOver time, I found the words, the terms: that what could or couldn’t be done forms part of the unequal division of labour inside and outside homes; that the activities that boys and girls, women and men are often told they can do feeds into our understanding of care work in homes, paid work outside the home, and also that sometimes these unpaid care activities are commodified, in the form of paid care work. So, what really inspired me to do research on gender - home: the home I lived in, the homes people I knew lived in, the homes people I didn’t know, but would observe, lived in; and over time the people who left their homes, who worked in homes, and those who lost homes. See an example of Zahrah’s research on gender and unpaid care work.   Elena Camilletti, Research Officer in Gender and Adolescence, UNICEF InnocentiElena Camilletti conducts research on the political economy of gender in social protection, unpaid care and domestic work, and gender norms, in low- and middle-income countries.My commitment to gender equality, and my interest in making that my career, has come gradually over time, but it goes back to my adolescence years. During that time, as it’s often the case for all adolescents, I started to become more aware of the world around me, the inequalities and injustices that I was seeing, in my family, in my community, in my country, and beyond, as I was growing up. When it was time to choose my University degree, and later on when applying for jobs, I knew I wanted to pursue a career where I could make a small, humble, contribution to the fight against those inequalities, those injustices. Gender inequalities specifically remain, in my opinion, the main obstacle to a world that’s just and caring, where equal opportunities exist for all genders.Gender inequalities specifically remain, in my opinion, the main obstacle to a world that’s just and caring, where equal opportunities exist for all genders. And research on gender inequalities is the first step to being able to make a difference: understanding their prevalence, for example the amount of time that women and girls spend on unpaid care and domestic work; investigating their root causes, for example unpacking the social and gender norms that drive gender inequalities; and identifying interventions that work to change those, sustainably. But ultimately what brought me to a career on gender equality and children’s rights, is the potential to use the evidence generated to raise awareness on these gender inequalities, and inform action, for current and future generations to benefit from. Something that I’m proud we at UNICEF Innocenti are committed to doing! See Elena’s research on adolescence and gender. 
How can formative assessment foster learning as schools reopen?
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How can formative assessment foster learning as schools reopen?

During COVID-19 related school closures, at least 463 million children had no access to remote learning (digital or TV/Radio). This crisis not only affects overall learning levels, but increases gaps, with the learning of children from disadvantaged households more deeply affected. Children from disadvantaged households miss learning opportunities because they lack access to remotely delivered instructional content. Children in poorer households are less likely to access computers and the internet, as well as TV, radio, or smartphones. For instance, 2.2 billion – or 2 in 3 children and young people aged 25 years or less – do not have internet access at home. In some contexts, disadvantaged parents are less engaged in their children’s learning. During school closings, children are more dependent on the academic support they receive from their parents, which some may not be able to provide. The pandemic may have, however, led parents of all backgrounds to provide more support. The pandemic has led to uncertainty and disruption. 39 billion in-school meals have been missed during school closures and an estimated 150 million more children were pushed into poverty. This economic crisis, coupled with children’s absence from school and reduced access to services offered through schools, may have increased children’s work. Children who work tend to also be disadvantaged in their learning in school. Even before COVID, the global “learning crisis” was well acknowledged. In many parts of the world, even after five years of schooling, a majority of children could not read a basic text fluently or do simple arithmetic. Pre-crisis, an estimated 53 per cent of children were in “learning poverty” – they could not understand a simple text by the age of 10. It is expected that COVID is leading to an additional 10 per cent of children in learning poverty Even within the same setting, prolonged school closures likely had differential impacts on children of different backgrounds. On top of existing inequalities, the pandemic likely worsened the situation, especially for children whose learning levels were already weak. The above-mentioned factors increase learning gaps, even within the same classroom, which means teachers will face students at different starting points when schools reopen. In response to this challenge and to accelerate the recovery process, it is important for teachers to understand the performance level of students when they return to the classroom in order to design lesson plans appropriate to the students’ current needs. The best tool to achieve this is formative assessment, which helps both teachers and students by giving them feedback about how individual learning is progressing. Formative assessment is a range of formal and informal assessment procedures conducted by teachers during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student achievement. Prior to COVID-19, initiatives by UNICEF, Pratham (an innovative learning organization created to improve the quality of education in India) and others successfully used formative assessment: In a UNICEF supported program in Assam, India, Pratham worked in partnership with the government schools in Sonitpur district. In 2019, in 200 schools, over 60 days (an hour a day), simple assessment showed that the proportion of children who were able to at least read a simple paragraph increased from 17 percent to 28 percent for Grade 3 children. In Grade 5, the percentage of "readers" went from 45 per cent to 56 per cent.In Papua, Indonesia, UNICEF programming focused on improving early grade reading, using formative assessments to tailor teaching to children’s needs. This yielding a 12 per cent increase in reading comprehension and a 36 per cent decrease in the proportion of non-readers.In Ethiopia, UNICEF’s Assessment for Learning improved teachers’ knowledge of continuous assessment, leading them to reinvent their teaching: they subsequently spent more time actively assessing students, as opposed to lecturing, managing the classroom, or on tasks unrelated to learning. Classroom observations revealed better use of continuous assessment. Communications between teachers and parents increased. Finally, there was substantial positive impact on learning in mother tongue and Mathematics.In Afghanistan, a creative approach to formative assessment involved children using hand signals to answer the teacher’s questions. This is promising, particularly for resource-constrained contexts where other modalities of formative assessment may not be feasible.Students in Daikundi province of Afghanistan respond to their teacher’s question by using hand signals.All this accumulated experience is proving useful now that formative assessment is more necessary than ever. When schools reopen, these tools are essential for identifying children’s learning levels, and to design remediation, compensation, catch up and accelerated programmes accordingly. In Mongolia, after schools were closed from February to September 2020, affecting over 600,000 children, the first month of the new term focused on assessment of learning and remedial lessons and activities. UNICEF supported development and distribution of teacher guidelines for remedial classes covering all core subjects from pre-primary to upper secondary. Teachers used the first classes for formative assessments to gauge children’s learning, and remedial classes were then adapted to the children’s specific needs. Earlier, UNICEF found that most Mongolian children wanted catch-up opportunities. These classes responded to children’s feedback, aiming to reduce stress and anxiety, and letting students ease back into their learning routines. Teachers’ feedback indicated that remedial classes were much needed and helpful, but more time was needed to fully address gaps. Global map of school closures caused by COVID-19Source: https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse (February 2021).In Madagascar, national scale up of their summer catch-up programme is being adapted to kick off school reopening, incorporating formative assessment. A similar UNICEF-supported program in Uzbekistan combined remediation and long-term reorientation of instruction, with a focus on teaching at the level of students. It identified priority learning outcomes and success criteria; assessed learning loss and knowledge gaps, favouring methods enabling automated results calculations; and designed catch-up plans for students with the greatest learning gaps. The most experienced teachers led the individual or group catch up sessions. Programme Guidelines have been disseminated across the country. In two provinces, Sri Lanka modelled return-to-school remediation packages including formative assessment, curriculum adaptation, and support for training around individualized learning. Similarly, formative assessment tools developed in Bangladesh and Malawi will also support school reopenings. Much remains to be done. Now more than ever, policy makers must prioritize support to teachers to strengthen their capacity to effectively use assessment. That is why Pratham and UNICEF are currently exploring ways to collaborate in promoting the use of formative assessment in classrooms around the world. Stay tuned…
Why developing more measures of social and gender norms really matters for gender equality
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Why developing more measures of social and gender norms really matters for gender equality

Supriya Sthapit recently completed an internship at UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti. In this blog, Supriya reflects on her work reviewing existing gender equality measures on social and gender norms, and how they can be used to strengthen research and evaluation studies, including on gender equality and social protection.In August 2020, I joined the Gender-Responsive and Age-Sensitive Social Protection (GRASSP) Team at UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti as a research intern. Working with my colleagues Elena Camilletti and Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed, we mapped and reviewed available measures of gender equality outcomes, including ones on social and gender norms across the life course used or tested in research and evaluations in low- and middle-income countries.Why measure social and gender norms?In recent years, there has been growing interest in social and gender norms (Box 1 provides definitions), in part due to their role in shaping gender equality outcomes. Depending on how restrictive or progressive these norms are, they can either foster positive social transformation or hinder progress.From a social protection perspective, prevailing norms can influence the design, implementation, and outcomes of programmes (see ALIGN and GRASSP Think Pieces). For instance, if the design of conditional cash transfer programmes is informed by norms around family and care expecting women to comply with conditionalities, they may risk increasing their existing care and domestic work, especially if appropriate services and infrastructures are not in place.Efforts are underway globally to better understand social and gender norms and their influence on gender equality outcomes (see recent works by EMERGE on Gender Norms and Social Norms, OXFAM, and UNICEF). However, more methodological investments are needed to appropriately measure norms, which must be sensitive to different ages and stages in the life course. This research in GRASSP contributes to these global efforts.MethodologyUsing existing repositories of measures from EMERGE and Population Council (Gender and Power Metrics), as well as additional surveys and evaluations[1], the measures were mapped and assessed to identify whether they:align with the underlying theories on empowerment and normscover a range of thematic areas in the GRASSP conceptual framework, such as healthcover different life course stages from childhood to old age, andcover different countries and regions.while journal articles and research reports claim to measure norms, they in fact measure attitudesSome Preliminary FindingsMost of the existing measures of gender equality are on attitudes - only few focus on social and gender norms. So far, 419 measures of gender equality have been reviewed. Of these, only 31 were found to be on social and gender norms. This is significantly lower than 226 measures found on attitudes and perceptions. Upon further review, while journal articles and research reports claim to measure norms, they in fact measure attitudes. This is in line with findings from ALIGN on gender norms, and suggests the need for a more careful conceptualization and operationalization of the concepts of norms and attitudes.Only a few of the thirty-one measures of social and gender norms are reported to be reliable. Of the twenty-three measures on norms that could be tested for reliability, nine of these report at least one measure of reliability, such as internal consistency. Of those, only seven had Cronbach alphas of more than 0.80. For the remaining 14 measures, journal articles reviewed did not report information around their reliability. This calls for greater attention to validity and reliability, and rigor, by researchers when developing or employing measures in research and evaluations.Most of the thirty-one measures on social and gender norms focus on empirical expectations. Twenty-one of these measures on norms focus on empirical expectations (see Graph 1 below for the breakdown on the number of questionnaire items). For instance, a 2019 paper drawing on findings from GAGE Bangladesh and Ethiopia baseline surveys includes a measure on “Community-Level Restrictive Gender Norms”. This assesses empirical expectations related to gender and education by asking respondents to agree or disagree with statements such as "Adolescent girls in my community are more likely to be out of school than adolescent boys".A further 13 measures are on normative expectations. For example, a South Africa survey  contains a measure on "Norms about Partner Violence Scale", asking respondents to agree or disagree with the statement "Most people in community think a boy can assault a girl".Finally, two measures were found to assess what actions are taken if individuals transgress prevailing norms in their communities (sanctions). Additionally, one measure was found on the nature and influence of the reference group (who and how individuals who matter to a person influence his/her decisions).Most of the thirty-one measures on social and gender norms are on adulthood From a life-course perspective, 28 measures on norms focus on adulthood (18-59 years). This is in line with the number of measures of attitudes, which overwhelmingly focus on this stage of the life course. A further six measures focus on adolescence (10-17 years), and two measures focus on old age (60 onwards)[2]. No measures were found on early childhood (up to 5 years) and ‘middle’ childhood (5-9 years). Finally, across life course stages, most questionnaire items focused on empirical expectations, followed by normative expectations (see Graph 2).Although there are sufficient measures on adulthood which can be utilized to learn about their norms, understanding the prevalence of norms in other stages of the life course is equally crucial. As studies suggest that children start to learn about social and gender norms from an early age, and to internalize them, especially during their adolescence, future research could develop and test measures on norms to be administered to children and adolescents. These measures can help understand the distribution of norms in certain populations, evaluate the effectiveness of interventions on changing these norms, and assess if and how such norms moderate the effectiveness of interventions on other outcomes.What’s Next?In completing this work, a visual database and accompanying briefs will be published, presenting additional findings by geographical coverage and gender equality outcome areas. The study will also analyze measures specifically employed in research and evaluations of social protection programmes, to understand how gender equality concepts are operationalized. As GRASSP progresses, these ‘best practice’ measures will inform the development of survey instruments for primary research, and feed into the production of Monitoring and Evaluation guidelines. So, stay tuned!Supriya Sthapit is a public health undergraduate from Nepal who joined the UNICEF Innocenti as an intern in August 2020 to work with the GRASSP team. She has been working in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights for past four years. For further information on UNICEF Innocenti’s FCDO-funded GRASSP project, click here. [1] These include surveys from Young Lives, the Transfer Project, and measures include in J-PAL Women’s Economic Empowerment.[2] For the measures on social and gender norms across the life-course, the same measure may have been used across more than one stages of life course. Hence, when we add the number of measures on social and gender norms across each stage of life course, it does not equal to the total number of measures on social and gender norms.
Promising Futures: Vocational training programme in rural Bangladesh
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Promising Futures: Vocational training programme in rural Bangladesh

This is the second in a two-part blog series that draws from the authors’ field visit to Let Us Learn programme sites in Bangladesh in February 2020.  The first part can be found here. In a town in the rural Sumanganj District of Bangladesh, we met recent graduates of  Alternative Learning Pathways, a Let Us Learn-supported programme implemented in partnership with Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee. The project targets adolescents aged 14 to 18 who have dropped out of school and are mostly unemployed or out-of-school. Alternative Learning Pathways provides them with vocational training in trades for which there is market demand in the community. In the Sumangani District, these trades included tailoring and dress making (the most popular), wood furniture design, IT support technician, mobile phone servicing, and beauty salon (for girls exclusively), amongst others (see Figure 1). Participants are trained for 6 months in their selected trade by a master craft person who owns a local business in the trade. The students train on-the-job with the master craft person four days per week and also receive classroom training twice a week, the latter of which includes theory, foundational literacy and numeracy skills, and life skills. The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee supports graduates to find a job in their trade upon completion of the programme. More than 80% of the graduates are typically taken on as full-time employees by the person they trained with. The incomes vary by trade, with those working in a trade such as woodwork receiving a slightly higher salary than those working in tailoring.The authors with recent ALP graduates they met with at the marketplace alongside colleagues from UNICEF Bangladesh, government, and implementing partners.In a market carpentry shop, we meet two adolescent boys making wooden chairs. They tell us that they recently completed their ALP training in wood-working and are now employed by the master craft person they trained with. They reflect that one of the most enjoyable aspects of the programme was being able to make new friends. They also highlight that their master craft person was constantly worried about their well-being, phoning parents if participants did not show up for training or work.A number of female Alternative Learning Pathways graduates we also met are now working at a tailoring shop. Most of the adolescent girls who participate were previously confined to a household helping with daily chores. Once girls start bringing money to the household through the earnings they make from their work, parents realize that their daughters can contribute financially to the household and they see a benefit to delaying their marriage. “It saved us from [early] marriage”, the three female practicing tailors from the programme tell us. Having been hired by their master craft person after completing their training, they earn between 2,000 and 4,000 Taka per month ($23.6 and $47.2USD) according to their production rate. Given the high rates of poverty in these communities (half the population live under the poverty line), these wages go a long way. The three young tailors say they have each been able to save money in bank accounts as a result. Their parents like what they are doing and now say, “later on we will think about marriage,” suggesting that productive work coupled with an income can trump the belief that girls need to be married to be taken care of. Once girls start bringing money to the household from their work, parents realize their daughters can contribute financially and they see a benefit to delaying their marriage.Through Alternative Learning Pathways girls who were initially confined to the household are freer to participate in social spaces predominately occupied by men. The programme allows girls to gain the confidence they need to pursue their interests and to visualize a future with opportunities. Another group of  three girls in the marketplace completed their vocational training as IT support technicians and now work on such tasks as editing photos, typing in Bangla or English, sending emails, and converting videos for customers. Within 6 months they had learned it all, their master craft person explains, saying “they can run the shop.” The girls are excited to train in this field because it is the future. “We are going for ‘digital Bangladesh!’” Echoing the tailors we met earlier, one participant shares that this opportunity prevented her early marriage, adding that she wants to run her own computer shop and get a better job working with software in the future.  Two Alternative Learning Pathways trainees and their Master Craft Person (left) show us the products and tools they use as beauty salon practitioners.A recent impact evaluation by the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee found that the programme has a more significant benefit for girls in comparison to boys, which is why Alternative Learning Pathways aims for 60% of programme participants to be girls. One of the explanations behind this trend is that boys are still expected to be breadwinners in their households. While Alternative Learning Pathways does provide the programme participants with a small stipend (approximately 10 USD monthly), boys may be engaged in hazardous forms of labor that pays them a higher wage. The National Child Labor Survey from 2013 estimated that there were 3.4 million working children in the country between the ages of 5 to 17, with 1.2 million children performing hazardous labor. Cultural expectations of males being breadwinners brings about a strong pressure to have higher earning power, which means that boys are less likely, and less willing, to participate in training programmes that provide limited stipends. We end our visit meeting with additional programme graduates and master craft persons, who show us some of the tools they utilize in their trades; a beauty salon practitioner even offers to give us a makeover! While ALP has contributed to a high rate of job placements and productive livelihoods for graduates, the longer-term impact of the programme is yet to be investigated. COVID-19 has placed some of these gains in question, as many business owners and workers have struggled to make ends meet during the periods of lockdown. Fortunately, as of the writing of this blog, the master craft persons engaged by the programme have been able to restart their work and are ready to receive a new cohort of trainees once Let Us Learn programmes are able to proceed. Cirenia Chavez is a education research consultant with UNICEF Innocenti and Annika Rigole is a research monitoring and evaluation specialist with the education section in UNICEF’s headquarters Programme Division.
Bright Beginnings: Community-Based Early Childhood Education in Rural Bangladesh
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Bright Beginnings: Community-Based Early Childhood Education in Rural Bangladesh

The first in a two-part blog series on Let Us Learn programme site visits in Bangladesh in February 2020.According to the most recent census, around half of the population in Bangladesh’s Sunamganj District lives below the poverty line. Monsoon flooding in the district perennially cuts villages off from one another and makes access to schools difficult. We drive past bustling markets and vast stretches of rice fields, arriving in a sparsely populated village on the banks of the Shurma river. Welcomed by members of the community, we take off our shoes to pay a visit to a new community pre-primary education center established by Let Us Learn in partnership with Dhaka Ahsania Mission. Community-based pre-schools are a critical way to expand early child education in this region, where only 30% of children attend a government pre-primary programme. In the community we are visiting, the nearest government school with a pre-school is 2 kilometers away, too far for young children to walk, especially during monsoon season, when the rising river is a major risk factor considering that most children do not know how to swim. While the river rose high last year, it did not overflow, and the school we are visiting was able to stay open the whole season. With support from Let Us Learn, community members here contributed their own land, resources, and water and sanitation facilities to establish and maintain the pre-school so that young children can learn closer to home. This community joins a group of 150 Let Us Learn-supported communities which established such centers in late 2018, serving 4,500 children who completed pre-school in 2019 and another 4,500 children (52.5% girls) who enrolled in pre-primary in these centers for the current school year. On the walls a profusion of learning materials – numbers, colors, and pictures displayed, images of famous historical figures, including Mother Teresa and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first prime minister of Bangladesh.From Sunday to Thursday, 5-year old children in this community attend class for 2.5 hours each day at the center. Classes follow a daily learning structure using the government curriculum of one year pre-primary education; the government provides the centers with the same teaching and learning materials used in government schools. The room has four corners for learning that the children can freely choose to access during a part of the class day. These corners include reading and drawing, block and movement, creative imagination, and sand and water. One facilitator is responsible for instructing the children; she shares that she initially received 15 days of training on pedagogy for her role and participates in both monthly and annual refresher trainings. the nationwide percentage of children on track in early literacy and numeracy skills was close to 50% amongst those who had attended early childhood education and only 20% for children who had notBecause the center is close to their homes, parents are able to bring and pick up their children each day. Even with a nearby center, flooding during the monsoon season can still create challenges for children’s access, so UNICEF and Dhaka Ahsania Mission have helped the communities develop disaster risk reduction plans. Without this center, parents describe, the pre-primary aged children in the community “would all be out of school.” There is an abundance of evidence  showing that children who attend pre-primary education score higher on a School Readiness Index (see for example UNICEF, 2016) and tend to have better learning outcomes once they are in primary school. In Bangladesh in 2019, the nationwide percentage of children on track in early literacy and numeracy skills was close to 50% amongst those who had attended early childhood education and only 20% for children who had not (Figure 1). At this center, we learn that all children from the previous pre-primary cohort have mainstreamed into primary school - an amazing result! “So how do you track whether the children are learning?” we asked the pre-primary facilitator. Children’s learning progress, per the government curriculum, is assessed every 3 months across 15 indicators with grades A to C. Children who score a C receive special support; they are paired with a high-performing student, a technique for which there is evidence of positive results. In the context of COVID-19, with all schools and Let Us Learn centers being closed, the likelihood of enrolling in primary education for these children may be further jeopardized. During the pandemic closures, facilitators are continuing to engage the children and their parents with learning through 10-minute phone check-ins every two days. UNICEF is also currently working on a 3-month package so that these children can be prepared for primary school and to mitigate the risks that those children might not enroll in primary education. Cirenia Chavez is a education research consultant with UNICEF Innocenti and Annika Rigole is a research monitoring and evaluation specialist with the education section in UNICEF's headquarters Programme Division.  
Building a Critical Mass: Digital engagement for the elimination of Female Genital Mutilation during COVID-19
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Building a Critical Mass: Digital engagement for the elimination of Female Genital Mutilation during COVID-19

As digital engagement was scaled up to mitigate girls’ risk of FGM and continue community-based initiatives during COVID-19, UNICEF organised a webinar with key actors to discuss their experiences of using digital tools to shift social norms and build girls’ agency. The blog below summarises the webinar.COVID-19 has presented significant challenges for the elimination of female genital mutilation (FGM). In Burkina Faso, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, and Sudan, reports show that school closures, social isolation, limited mobility, and reduced law enforcement and frontline service providers increase girls’ risk of undergoing FGM. Social distancing has triggered an accelerated shift to digital technologies as people increasingly rely on technology for access to services, information, education, social networks, and livelihoods. Thus, scaling up digital engagement was identified as a way to mitigate girls’ risk of FGM and continue community-based initiatives in the absence of in-person contact for preventing harmful practices.Innovative projects from India, Nigeria, Africa, and EgyptErika Houghtaling (USAID) presented research conducted under a new project, “Game of Choice, Not Chance”. This is a mobile gaming platform targeting adolescents ages 15 to 19 in the Hindi-belt of India. By combining an interactive story-based video game, reproductive health education e-learning tools, and portal features that link players to health products and services in real time, the project looks to empower girls by building agency and changing social norms. The research was conducted by the Girl Effect’s Technology Enabled Girls Ambassadors, using a mobile, peer-to-peer research app.U-Report is a free open-source mobile messaging programme that gives youth and their communities a voice on issues that matter to them. With 3.4 million users, UNICEF Nigeria uses this data to develop social media campaigns targeting and mobilizing a youth movement. During the COVID-19 crisis, UNICEF Nigeria used #endcuttinggirls to support social media advocacy to end FGM, reaching over a quarter of a million users. They also used sponsored ads to encourage people to act on issues related to child protection, including a campaign to end violence against girls which reached 1.1 million users. UNICEF Nigeria is piloting a digital youth marketplace called “Yoma Africa”, which provides access to skills development opportunities and incentivizes youth social action by offering rewards. While these are innovative models for digital engagement, Minu Limbu highlighted that the issue of inequitable access to digital technologies remains, as communities with the highest number of marginalized and vulnerable children in Nigeria often have less connectivity.In Nigeria, places where children are more deprived are also the areas with little or no connectivity. (Map Source: NCDC 2020, BBC 2019, GSMA 2018)Dr. Faith Mwangi-Powell (Girls Not Brides) spoke about digital engagement to stop FGM and child marriage. The Girl Generation aimed to strengthen the Africa-led movement to catalyze social norm change and eliminate FGM using digital technology as a means of collaboration and co-creation. As part of this, the “I Will End FGM” campaign was launched across youth networks, which invited young people to share their videos on how they would end FGM. The campaign exceeded all targets, reaching 20 million people via social media and other channels.UNICEF Egypt presented “Dawwie”, which means “a loud voice with impact” in Arabic. This initiative to empower adolescent girls uses digital engagement to raise awareness about harmful practices and the gendered impacts of COVID-19.Key takeaways from the webinarWith growing opposition to FGM, digital platforms not only spark critical thinking about harmful practices, but can also support collective action to end FGM.Co-creation with young people and partners is crucial to ensure context-responsive digital youth engagement.While digital engagement is showing promising results in shifting social norms and building youth agency, it should be combined with interpersonal, community level interventions.The evidence base around digital engagement for social norms change is limited. More research and impact evaluations are needed.Ethics and “do no harm” are essential, including creating a risk mitigation strategy to protect vulnerable youth and address online risks.Digital engagement has the potential to drive youth participation and civic engagement more than traditional civic spaces, while supporting social change for future generations. An inclusive and digital "new normal"During the webinar, the issue of the gender digital divide was discussed. A 2018 Vodaphone and Girl Effect global study of girls’ mobile phone access and use found that boys were 1.5 times more likely to own a mobile phone than girls. Poor infrastructure in many countries means half the world’s population does not have access to the internet, with African youth the least connected. According to UNICEF’s 2017 State of the World’s Children, around 60% of African youth are not online, compared to just 4% in Europe.As the global community adapts to the COVID-19 “new normal,” containment policies are hastening the digital transition. Accelerating efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5.3 on the elimination of harmful practices (including FGM), requires innovative and cost-effective solutions to access communities and foster social cohesion in the face of the pandemic. Digital engagement is one such solution, but we must ensure that no one is left behind in the new digital world. Watch the recording, see the webinar highlights, and view the presentations.Nankali Maksud is a Senior Advisor in Child Protection at UNICEF and the Global Coordinator of the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage. Stephanie Baric is a Consultant with the Prevention of the Harmful Practices in Child Protection at UNICEF.
Daniel is looking at the basketball pitch
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Safeguarding and sport for development during and after the pandemic

This blog is part three of a series highlighting innovative responses to COVID-19 from S4D organizations. UNICEF Innocenti is conducting research on S4D in collaboration with the UNICEF- FCB and Barça Foundation partnership.  The first blog in the series discussed innovative responses S4D organizations have taken  globally to adapt to the crisis. The second blog explores the challenges faced in South Africa’s unique contexts and different responses to them.Sport for Development (S4D) organisations have adapted their programming to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis through continued support including remote learning, providing health information, and supporting their staff to support other programs. In this blog we explore the new risks and challenges raised by the crisis and how organisations can use this time to make sure the return to play is safer than ever.All children have the right to participate in sport in a safe and enjoyable environment as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Sport can contribute to positive youth development and to building life skills. Moreover, it is widely perceived that sport can help to steer young people away from risky behaviours such as youth in conflict with the law and aggressive and violent behaviours by strengthening social bonds with positive actors.However, the perception that sport is only a force for good for children has been challenged. Sport can also bring risks such as violence, exploitation and abuse, and there are also some risks which are unique to sport, such as abuse for elite young athletes, risks from training when injured, and issues like doping and hazing. These risks need to be minimized and children and young people protected.Risks and ChallengesWhile many S4D and sport organisations, including those that form part of the International Safeguarding Children in Sport Initiative, consider safeguarding an essential component of programming, the COVID-19 crisis brings new risks and challenges. RespondingManaging these risks and overcoming these challenges has the potential to help organisations become even stronger. Shrinking Budgets: If the crisis has meant that staff with a particular responsibility for safeguarding are not currently working, this presents an opportunity to ensure that safeguarding is embedded in everyone’s roles. As a rule of thumb, no more than a third of safeguarding responsibilities should be held by staff with a specific safeguarding role - Safeguarding is the duty of care we all have, for all children in our programmes. Organisations could use this time to:raise awareness and understanding about what safeguarding is and what everyone’s responsibilities are, which will help reduce safeguarding risk now, and in the future;check policies and programming to make sure they are following good practice guidance such as the The International Safeguards for Children in Sport or the FIFA Guardians Stigma can lead to bullying and emotional abuse, so it is really important to have strategies ready to tackle new forms of discrimination that may arise as a direct result of the pandemic. Organisations probably already have codes of conduct for staff and participants – this could be a great time to revisit those in light of COVID-19 and have discussions about treating everyone with respect and the importance of hygiene measures, as well as taking time to dispel any myths about the disease. Remote programming and engagement: Sports coaches, who would normally interact with children face to face, may be engaging with children in an online environment and may be unfamiliar with the risks this situation presents, or how to plan online activities safely. The online environment can be a positive space that connects and educates children, but it is also a space where children can be put at risk of harm and vigilance is needed. Some simple tips for making this a safer space include: Plan any online contact with safeguarding in mind – Just as you would plan any face to face activities with children, think about any risks and mitigations.Be accountable – Avoid one-to-one online contact with children and if possible, always have another adult involved in the group discussion.Keep professional boundaries – everything can feel very familiar and informal when engaging with people online, but it is important to remain professional and have clear boundaries at all times.Separate out and close off accounts - It is good practice to use a different account for engaging with children or young people so that you do not have to share personal social media contact details and there can be no confusion about the nature of the contact.Be ready to report – You may become aware of a risk of harm to the child or children you are engaging with. Be aware of how to report any concerns, both where the child is in need of immediate medical or police assistance or where you can contact support agencies after the online session has finished.You can find more guidance or safely engaging with children online here:  https://www.unicef.org/online-safety/ Resuming programming: Many organisations have continued to run sports activities, either because they are in communities without confirmed cases, or have adapted activities to ensure social distancing is maintained. Nevertheless, creating an environment where COVID-19 is transmitted because an organisation has failed to take the right measures is a safeguarding risk – it is important to risk-assess any activities, thinking about how children will travel to the activity, how the sport will happen in a safe way and other factors such as spectators.Additionally, children already living in vulnerable circumstances have been made more vulnerable by lockdowns, and traditional sources of support and protection, including the S4D programmes they attended, have been taken away. When children do return they may be suffering from trauma as a result of their experiences during lock-down, or as a result of sickness or bereavement. Now is the time to make contact with organisations in the community that can offer emotional support and adapt your programmes to follow more trauma-sensitive activities. Organisations need to be ready to refer children to specialist services if they disclose abuse that they have experienced during lock-down. Final ThoughtsNow is a time for organisations to strengthen all aspects of their approach to safeguarding: from embedding this responsibility across the organisation; to developing links with local experts who can support with referrals or provide emotional and mental health support; to better understanding and addressing risk online. Acting now will strengthen programmes in the short and long term and make sure children who are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis are supported by organisations at the top of their safeguarding game. Liz Twyford is a Sports Programmes Specialist at Unicef UK - specialising in the impact of sport on children’s rights, with a focus on safeguarding in sport Artur Borkowski is a consultant at the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti currently conducting research on the effectiveness of Sport for Development for Children globally. 
Children playing at the beach full of plastic waste, in Abidjan, in the South of Côte d'Ivoire
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From COVID-19 response to recovery: What role for universal child benefits?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than one billion children either lived in, or were vulnerable to, falling into extreme poverty. As children are twice as likely globally to live in poverty than adults, the economic fall-out of COVID-19 is expected to hit them particularly severely, and estimates indicate that an additional 117 million children could fall into poverty (below national poverty lines) by the end of 2020 alone.Children are not only more likely to live in poverty than adults, poverty impacts on children are particularly severe. Rarely do children get a second chance at nutrition, health care or education. The effects of poverty can be immediate and life-long, and what affects children now will be felt fully by societies and economies as they become the next generation of adults.A growing evidence base underscores the significant impacts child benefits can have on child poverty, with positive effects on spending on children, their health, education, food security and protection. Despite this, children are significantly under-represented in social protection coverage: globally only 1 in 3 children have access to a child or family benefit.With COVID-19 increasing child poverty rates and exposing the gaps in social protection systems, a recent ODI-UNICEF report on Universal Child Benefits: policy issues and options, provides new evidence and a framework for assessing the policy options for introducing or expanding child benefits. Drawing on experience from around the world, it asks: What are the benefits and limitations of alternative child benefit schemes? How have UCBs been achieved in practice?Child benefits are commonly considered against poverty reduction objectives, and here evidence highlights the potential of UCBs. By achieving high population coverage and minimising exclusion errors, OECD countries with universalistic systems, including UCBs, achieve greater reductions in poverty than countries that rely more heavily on narrow means testing. Simulations for countries without UCBs, for which data are available, show that UCB programmes costing about 1% of GDP would reduce child poverty rates by as much as 20%.UCBs offer additional positives which reinforce poverty reduction impacts. These include:Alignment with human rights – with comparatively higher population coverage rates, UCBs are in line with principles of equality and non-discrimination. Within universalistic approaches, focusing additional resources on those facing particular discrimination and disadvantage, such as additional benefits for persons with disabilities, is also in line with human rights principles.Supporting dignity and minimising shame – the impacts of the stigma of living in poverty can be exacerbated by programmes which narrowly target and emphasise the responsibilities of recipients. For children, this can be particularly pernicious as aspirations and expectations for the future are set in childhood. Processes of narrow targeting and punitive conditionality can stigmatise children and their caregivers. UCBs are less likely to be divisive in this way – for instance by reducing the need for informational checks or the fulfilment of strict behavioural conditions.Promoting social cohesion and political support – UCBs have the potential to bind societies with a shared responsibility for supporting children and raising the next generation. Relatedly, they are associated with low inequality, high social trust and cohesion. In Finland, for example, UCBs along with other universal programmes, played an important role in forging the post-World War II social contract and cohesion efforts. This shared purpose, along with benefits for children across the income spectrum can lead to political support for benefits, leaving them more resilient to shocks and crises, including political ones. The report highlights how, where they exist, UCBs are a cornerstone of social policy. It also points to important caveats. Access to quality social services is essential. Increasing resources in the home can make a difference, but if schools and health care are not available or are of low quality and families cannot receive support from social workers where needed, their impact will be curtailed. Relatedly, UCBs must be part of comprehensive social protection systems (or Social Protection Floors) that address risks across the lifecycle and include working-age benefits such as unemployment insurance, health care and sickness benefits and pensions in old age.Despite the potential of UCBs globally, only one in ten countries has a UCB (defined as universal, unconditional coverage for at least 10 years of childhood), with a further 14 countries having a ‘quasi’ UCB either covering shorter periods of childhood (e.g. 0-2 years), with an affluence cut off, or achieving high coverage through ‘mixed systems’ combining contributory social insurance and non-contributory provision to achieve high population coverage.The fundamental challenge, of course, is financing. UCBs with transfer amounts significant enough to make a difference are not inexpensive. Costs vary depending on the size of the child population and the economy. This makes UCBs relatively cheaper in higher-income countries. In OECD countries the average spending on child benefits is 1.7% of GDP, while in lower-income countries, a transfer that covered the gap to the international poverty line (a relatively low threshold) for 0-14 year-olds would cost 2.3% of GDP – well above the 0.3% that lower-income countries on average are currently spending.This highlights the potential in many countries to start with smaller programmes and building towards universality, as was the case in countries ranging from Sweden to South Africa. For example, costs for a quasi-UCBs for children of 0-4 years, a crucial early childhood development window, would be 0.9% of GDP in lower-income countries. In middle-income countries, a more generous transfer for 0-14 year-olds would cost 1.1% of GDP.But the argument for UCBs is not that they are inexpensive, rather that they are effective and can be the cornerstone of a child-sensitive social protection system. Certainly, available financing will need to increase. Domestic resource mobilisation will be essential, as child benefits and social protection systems make sense as part of a broader progressive system of taxes and transfers where everyone benefits, but contributions to the tax system will vary. In countries such as Mongolia and Zambia, taxation of natural resources has played a crucial role in financing their provision, and in Thailand and Costa Rica child benefits have been supported by internal resource reallocation, including from the military. For lower-income countries, in particular, international support and solidarity will be essential, including much-needed debt relief.The ODI-UNICEF report was researched, written and finalised before COVID-19 unfolded. What seemed necessary but ambitious before COVID-19, now is more evidently urgent. The pandemic has served as a ‘wake-up call’ both for the need for expanded approaches to social protection and deeper and sustained investment. In recent months we have seen an unprecedented social protection response to the crisis. Some 111 countries have provided direct support to children and their families, including through UCBs and adjustments to other types of child benefits, demonstrating that rapid and significant change is possible. The responses have highlighted how countries with established child benefits with high or universal population coverage are able to scale-up protection when shocks hit, and their potential to continue to support children and their carers during the crisis response and recovery phases.To give a few examples, in Mongolia, the government increased their Child Money Programme monthly benefit by five times from MNT 20,000 per month to MNT 100,000 for a duration of 6 months. Austria, Guatemala and the Philippines dropped the behavioural additions assigned to their child benefits. Argentina increased its Universal Child Allowance programme by $3,100 Argentine pesos (US$47) for current beneficiaries.  South Africa increased the amount of the Child Support Grant  from June to October by providing every caregiver with an additional R500 (US$27) per month. In Germany, families received a one-off child bonus of EUR 300 for each child in addition to its UCB. Some 18 million children and adolescents have received this bonus. Furthermore, tax relief has been granted for single parents, 90% of whom are women.It is important to stress, however, that many of these COVID-19 measures are temporary - typically envisioned for approximately three months - and this raises concerns about a ‘cliff fall’ scenario if measures are abruptly and prematurely withdrawn as COVID’s economic consequences persist. Amplifying this concern, following fiscal expansion in response to the crisis, austerity may follow, as it did after the 2008 financial crisis.This would be short-sighted. No child should see their potential unfulfilled due to the lack of a small amount of financial resources in the household, yet this is the case for hundreds of millions, perhaps more than a billion, children. The costs to them, their families and societies as a whole are hard to contemplate. UCBs are not a silver bullet, and the path to ensuring all children receive support will not be easy, but if ever there was a time to take the steps to reimagine social policy for children, now is it.  Francesca Bastagli is Director of the Equity and Social Policy Programme and Principal Research Fellow, at ODI. She specialises in public policy research and advisory work on the design, implementation and evaluation of social policy, with a focus on social protection policies and their poverty, inequality and employment outcomes. Her recent research is on fiscal policy and inequality, adapting social protection to the “future of work”, and social protection in contexts of displacement.Ian Orton is a Social Protection Policy Officer at the International Labour Organisation's Social Protection Department. Prior to this, he worked for the Social Inclusion and Policy Section of UNICEF in New York, for BRAC USA and the International Social Security Association. His interests have focused on social policy issues related to social protection and the financial crisis, universal child benefits and UBI.David Stewart is Chief, Child Poverty and Social Protection in UNICEF, HQ and co-Chair of the Global Coalition to End Child Poverty. Previously he was UNICEF’s Chief of Social Policy in Uganda, and has researched, written and presented on the Human Development Reports and indices. David is currently focused on issues of child poverty measurement and policy response, including universal child benefits and strengthening social protection systems.The responsibility for the opinions express in this article rests solely with its authors, and publication does not constitute an endorsement by the ODI, UNICEF or the International Labour Office.
Overcoming the adolescent financing gap: The Burundi investment case
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Overcoming the adolescent financing gap: The Burundi investment case

Adolescence (10-19 years) is a make or break period when individuals begin to consolidate their physical, cognitive, emotional and socio-economic foundations that will shape their lives. Adolescence is a critical period as many individuals never fully recover from any developmental shortcomings they experience. Yet in today’s world, many adolescents lack access to critical services in health, education, psycho-social support, parental guidance and an enabling environment that would adequately prepare them for a safe transition to adulthood.Adolescence is a critical period as many individuals never fully recover from any developmental shortcomings they experience.The World Bank Human Capital Project and the African Union roadmap on taking full advantage of the demographic dividend recognize the importance of investing in young people as a necessary condition for the realization of several national goals and the SDGs. Nonetheless, a yawning gap exists between this understanding and the reality in several countries. Expenditure on social services are widely perceived as costs with no tangible public returns, at least in the short run. As a result, there is usually a tendency to underinvest in building human capital in favor of items such as roads or bridges for which benefits are more tangible and immediate, and which also tend to be politically more expedient.In an effort to draw attention to this investment gap and the practical implications of the lack of investment, the UNICEF Country Office in Burundi, working in coordination with government ministries (under the leadership of the Ministry of Youth, Posts and Information Technology) and other development partners (UNFPA, UN Women and UNDP) have recently undertaken an investment case for adolescents in the country.Burundi currently faces many challenging socio-economic conditions as it recovers from a period of social and political instability. GDP per capita was estimated at about $262 in 2019, down from $305 in 2015 (WB, 2020). Burundi is ranked 185 out of 189 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index of 2019; and ranked 138 out of 157 on World Bank Human Capital Index of 2018. Adolescents make up about 25 per cent of the population, of which about 30 per cent are already out of school. Only 10 per cent of the relevant age cohort complete secondary education, and there are many issues relating to the quality of education. Adolescent mortality rate is 277 per 100,000, ranking 172 out of 183 countries by WHO in 2017. Malaria and tuberculosis account for 27 per cent and 25 per cent respectively of these deaths. Among males, the death rate due to road accident is 24 per 100,000. About 9 per cent of girls 15-19 are mothers with an unmet need for family planning at 55 per cent and maternal conditions account for 21 deaths per 100,000 girls of ages 15-19.Children play a game at a recreational space in Rumonge Province, Burundi, opened in January 2019. Members of the community have assumed responsibility for its management and funding.Burundi’s investment case focuses on interventions aimed at improving the health and education/skills acquisition of adolescent girls and boys. The health interventions include preventive and curative strategies relating to reproductive health, maternal and child health, malaria, mental health, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, human papillomavirus (HPV), and road accidents. The education interventions include those targeted at formal education:  teaching and learning, school infrastructure and cash for the poorest students; and those targeted at non-formal education: social innovation and entrepreneurship, trade certificates and professional training.Direct benefits of the health interventions are estimated using the OneHealth Tool  which takes into account current prevalence of each condition and the morbidity and mortality that can be averted by adopting various tested interventions[i]. All together, the health interventions are expected to lead to:a reduction in the adolescent fertility rate by 23.7 per cent resulting in 25,817 fewer (usually unplanned) births;1,361 stillbirths and 1,580 newborn deaths to adolescent mothers averted;75 maternal deaths of adolescents averted;15,157 fewer children of adolescents stunted;6,300 adolescents lives saved from tuberculosis;1,500 adolescent lives saved from road traffic injuries;5,798 adolescents saved from serious disability from road traffic crashes; and16,842 lives saved form cervical cancer over the lifetime of the targeted cohort.The education interventions, compared to following the status-quo, are projected to achieve:Increase in school enrolment of adolescents (15-19) from a current level of 55 per cent to 71 per cent by 2030;Reduction from 30 per cent to 11 per cent of students leaving school with only primary education;350,000 additional beneficiaries acquire a trade certificate;40,000 adolescents acquire vocational training; andproductivity of males aged 20-24 in 2050 increased by 85.9 per cent while that of females aged 20-24 in the same year is increased by 102.2 per cent.Put together, the health and education interventions would inevitably result in a healthier and more productive labour force that can transform the economic fortunes of the country in the coming decades. The total (cumulative) cost for financing all the proposed interventions up to 2030 is about USD 1.2 billion (approximately $124 million per annum), which is modest compared to all the immediate benefits enumerated above. What is even more reassuring is the fact that the estimated economic value and social benefits from these investments are more than tenfold the cost.The results of the modeling framework show that, an annual investment of $8.8 million in the health interventions over the period 2019 – 2030 would accrue social and economic benefits of magnitude that translate to a benefit-to-cost (BCR) ratio of 16.4. Similarly, investments of $115.2 million per annum in the education interventions over the period 2019 – 2030 is expected to provide a BCR of 9.7. The full report is available here.[ii] The economic benefits are realized from the output of people who would otherwise be dead or severely disabled, and from the increased productivity from a more skilled and healthier workforce.Analysis of recent budgets of the Burundi government shows an already high commitment to education and health (about 30 per cent in 2018/2019 budget) leaving limited fiscal space for these additional expenses to be borne by the Government. There may be some room for increasing tax revenues and increasing the efficiency of public spending, but the key to bridging the financing gap lies in increased overseas development assistance and innovative financing schemes such as the Global Financing Facility, the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria and TB, and GAVI.The fallout of the COVID pandemic will likely put more adolescents at risk of missing out on key development milestones and government budgets will likely become overstretched as the effects of the global economic slowdown continue to bite. As noted by the Executive Director of UNICEF at the launch of the Generation Unlimited initiative in 2018:The change in demographics the world is experiencing, coupled with fast-moving technological advances, presents a critical moment in history. If we act wisely and urgently, we can create a skilled cohort of young people better prepared to create sustainable economies, and peaceful and prosperous societies. Young people may represent 25 per cent of the global population, but they account for 100 per cent of the future. We cannot afford to fail them.[i] Models take account of the effectiveness of interventions and potential uptake where necessary[ii] Future costs and benefits are discounted as appropriate. Frank Otchere is social policy specialist with the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti in Florence, Italy.
Using an auto-disable syringe, a woman health worker vaccinates Shahriyor
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How will COVID-19 disrupt child well-being in Southern and Eastern Europe and Central Asia?

  The story of the COVID-19 pandemic is one of vulnerability, in which those with pre-existing deprivations are likely to suffer most. While the full range of economic and social consequences of the crisis are yet to emerge, it will undoubtedly affect many children, by exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and their underling conditions. Table 3 from the report below shows the country performance with regard to child well-being outcomes and the vulnerability they pose during the current COVID-19 pandemic.   UNICEF Innocenti is engaged in an intensive rapid research effort to generate evidence to increase understanding of what the COVID-19 health crisis means for children and their families. We have recently published a research report highlighting some of these findings for countries in Southern and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (ECA). An analytical exercise on Supporting Families and Children beyond COVID-19 offers a look on the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on early responses, by exploring the economic, social, and demographic preconditions and how they interlink with child well-being outcomes.   How is child well-being likely to be affected by a sudden change in the country’s GDP? Looking at the association between COVID-19 and GDP, the study undertakes an empirical analysis on a set of macroeconomic dimensions mirroring child-relevant targets across SDG areas of poverty, nutrition, infant mortality, education, youth employment and training, and youth violence. Drawing from previous economic crises, it is expected that GDP will likely fall in the region, and be protracted in some contexts. According to World Bank predictions, it is expected that worst-hit countries in the region with respect to GDP fall will be Croatia (-9.3), Bulgaria (-6.2), Russia (-6.0), Romania (-5.7), Albania (-5.0), and Hungary (-5.0). Smaller economies, such as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and North Macedonia should be affected less. Taking the last world-wide economic crisis as the baseline, the current downturn is expected to last for at least two years and the recovery may take as long as 10 years for many countries. These trends project medium- to long-term risks to children and their families, which may impede the SDG progress towards the 2030 deadline. Our research found that GDP effects many child outcomes in the region. For ECA countries, a higher GDP is actually linked to higher levels of child poverty, in that higher economic wealth comes along with relatively higher levels of income poverty among children. This is a common trend across the region, but there are exceptions, as in the case of Belarus, Serbia, Ukraine, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the relative economic wealth is matched by comparatively lower levels of child poverty. Faring better in child poverty reduction in relation to economic wealth is largely due to social protection investments of these countries, as shown in Figure 7.     Rapid economic growth frequently leads to the unequal distribution of wealth, and where there is inequality, poverty follows. Indeed, findings show that higher levels of child poverty are always seen when there are higher levels of income inequality (measured by Gini) in ECA countries. The notable exception to this trend is Belarus, where despite a lower income inequality rate, there is a fairly large proportion of children living in poverty. Lower GDP is linked to higher levels of youth not in education, employment or training (NEET), and high neo-natal, and under-five mortality in ECA countries. The COVID-19 health crisis is exacerbating child vulnerabilities by reducing economic growth. The economic shocks will be felt by families and children unequally, with those at risk of infant mortality, extreme poverty, and young people in the labour market most likely to be affected than the average population. How is child well-being affected by other preconditions? Several economic and social preconditions are likely to moderate the effects of the crisis on child poverty and well-being in the region. Lower income inequality, higher employment rates, and a sizeable service sector will likely fare better during the pandemic. Younger children are at a higher risk of poverty, as this age group often receives less social protection support both in normal times and during the pandemic. Furthermore, poorer children’s health outcomes are associated with higher rates of out-of -pocket costs, and lower healthcare service capacity. However, these preconditions are also affected by the crisis and would need monitoring and stabilising mechanisms. What will ECA children miss as a result of COVID-19? Children will struggle to improve their living standards. Considering the contractions in economic growth following the COVID-19 crisis, it is expected that the poorer children in ECA countries would have a higher sensitivity to reduced economic growth than the average population. This means that a contraction in the GDP is likely to exacerbate the incidence of poverty and income inequality across the region. Youth will have difficulties finding a job. Since 2006 the average NEET rate has stood at 21.5 per cent, or put differently: around one in five youth have not been in education, employment, or training in the region. A contraction in the country’s overall GDP can pose a serious challenge for the future ability of youth to access the labour market in ECA countries. An unexpected contraction in GDP can have detrimental effects on child health outcomes. Across the ECA region since 2006, an increase of 1 per cent of GDP per capita is associated with a fall in under-five child mortality rates and homicide rates.  The COVID-19 crisis continues to put pressure on national health systems of ECA countries, which disrupts the coverage of medical interventions and the delivery of routine health care during the early stages of children’s lives. Unless mitigating policies are put in place, the pressure on health systems will have serious repercussions for child and infant mortality. What needs monitoring and improvement? Lessons from previous crises show that expansionary and universalistic social protection responses have contributed to protecting children from the worst effects. To respond to challenges that children and families face within the COVID-19 context, policy responses need to focus on expansionary social and fiscal measures to increase consumption and investments in children and families. The universal coverage of social protection benefits for children in times of COVID-19 is not currently being achieved in any of the ECA countries. Austerity measures should be entirely avoided when it comes to children and their families.     Issues of quality of services and staffing in the health sector matter and should be scrutinized and accounted for at a country level. The evidence and reflections are based on existing data. Additional empirical evidence in the region is required to account for a diverse range of child outcomes in the context of COVID-19 pandemic.   Alessandro Carraro is a Social and Economic Policy consultant at the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti currently conducting research on child poverty with a particular focus on Multiple Overlapping Deprivation Analysis (MODA). Victor Cebotari is a Strategic Advisor for Academic Affairs at University of Luxembourg and a former consultant at the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti whose research interests include social policy, education, migration, gender, child wellbeing, and multidimensional deprivation.
Making sure the most vulnerable children are heard during COVID-19: Five lessons on data collection from Somalia
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Making sure the most vulnerable children are heard during COVID-19: Five lessons on data collection from Somalia

“Playing football was stopped, the school was closed, our parents refused to meet friends during coronavirus.” (boy, 14)            “My mother used to sell breakfast in front of the school, and when the school closed it affected our daily living.” (girl, 16)While COVID-19 has presented new risks and challenges for collecting information, children’s voices must continue to be heard when developing policies and programmes that impact their lives. In recognition of this, UNICEF Somalia designed and conducted a study, with technical support from the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti and funding from the UK government, to capture the experiences of some of the most vulnerable children living in Puntland and Somaliland during the current pandemic. 1,090 children (aged 10-18 years) were interviewed between 5th and 21st July 2020. This included children living on the streets, those affected by migration, and those living alone with no family. All the data collected was disaggregated by key factors such as gender and age group to provide additional insights. Established principles of ‘do no harm’ and proper ethical standards always matter, including during times of crisis. In recognition of this, the research was conducted in line with the guidelines outlined in Ethical Considerations for Evidence Generation Involving Children on the COVID-19 Pandemic. This blog sets out five lessons around the design of primary research with children during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in particular highlights how we were able to successfully conduct in-person interviews while adhering to ethical and safety protocols. Lesson 1: Social workers or similar frontline staff can be utilised as interviewersConducting surveys by phone or internet would exclude the vast majority of children we wanted to speak to, so in-person interviews were required. However, social distancing rules, as well as safety and ethical considerations, meant that these interviews had to be conducted with the utmost care. Social work students were identified and trained as enumerators, as they were already assisting children in various settings in the region (including in IDP camps, safe houses, and on the street), supported by UNICEF Somalia. The social workers were well-trained on how to engage with vulnerable children and build rapport, which helped cultivate a safe space for interviews. They had also been trained on how to use an innovative online data collection tool (kobotoolbox) and were embedded in social service organisations which provided referrals if anyone who needed urgent help. They followed social distancing protocols and used the necessary protective equipment in their daily roles, so any increased risk of spreading the virus during data collection was minimised. Lesson 2: Collecting only essential data is especially important during COVIDGiven the difficult study context of vulnerable children during a pandemic, it was essential that the interview was as focused as possible. The survey length was kept short (between 10-15 minutes) to maximise response rates and minimise any impact on other social work activities. To gather a representative sample, children were randomly invited to take part. Around nine out of ten children who were invited to participate did so. The profile of those who refused to take part matched the profile of those who agreed, which meant that those who were interviewed were representative of the different types of children with whom social workers ordinarily engage with. The only exception to this approach was to invite all children with disabilities who were encountered during the fieldwork to take part in the survey. This was done to ensure a sufficient number were included. Disability was defined as those who had any difficulties in speaking, hearing, seeing, walking or any other physical difficulties. All children provided fully informed consent. Lesson 3: Data can be used to inform responses immediatelyThe findings from this study are already being integrated into UNICEF Somalia’s programming. We found very high levels of awareness of COVID-19 (around nine in ten interviewees had heard of Coronavirus) and a high proportion felt informed about how to reduce the risk of infection. However, only 67% of girls felt they were personally at risk of catching it, which was lower still among boys (61%). Coupled with data on reported changes in behaviour and sources of information about the virus, these findings are being used to help inform how COVID-19 information campaigns can be strengthened. Queries about COVID-19 are now being answered through radio and social media messaging. The research provided robust evidence on the immediate impact of the pandemic on these children; only six percent said they had been to school in the last month. Furthermore, the study showed that many of these vulnerable children were excluded from education even before the pandemic; one in four said that they had never been to school. Discouragingly, alternatives to classroom teaching, including remote learning, are not available; four in five children did not have access to the internet and two-thirds did not have either television or radio. There was little difference by gender on these indicators. In response, UNICEF’s Child Protection team is working with education partners to provide access to online schooling for internally displaced children and to train teachers on child protection and referral services.   Community members in Mogadishu, Somalia during the COVID-19 outbreak.The results raise concerns about resilience should the pandemic worsen. One in four children did not have access to clean drinking water, over a third were unable to access healthcare, and 44 percent said they are unable to get medication when they need it. Again, the results for boys and girls were similar. In response to this, UNICEF and partners are expanding the provision of critical child protection services, including case management, psychosocial support, provision of alternative care for unaccompanied and separated children, and safe houses for children associated with armed groups. UNICEF distributes personal protective equipment to organisations providing these services to children. Lesson 4: Early data collection provides a robust baseline for measuring change Just over half of the children interviewed told us that the pandemic has had a negative impact on their lives (55% of boys and 47% of girls). However, it is notoriously difficult to measure changes in attitudes or behaviour in one stand-alone survey. For this reason, the survey acta as a baseline assessment to provide a measure of attitudes and experiences at a particular point in the pandemic, which could then be tracked over time (when it is appropriate and safe to do so) to provide clearer indications of changes in experiences. For example, one in four children said they had been physically hurt by someone they knew in the past month (29% of boys compared to 14% of girls) and one in eight had been forced to do unpaid work (no gender difference in response). While it is not possible at this stage to say if abuse increased because of lockdown measures, the results demonstrate that harm is ongoing and provide a benchmark for future measurement. The results can be used to help monitor potential harms that may occur, with this baseline data providing insights into what issues might be of particular concern given the impact the pandemic is having on children’s behaviour. Lesson 5: Learn from the interviewersA complementary online survey of the social workers was conducted to capture their perspectives. This survey improved understanding of how COVID-19 is impacting their work and helps identify the support they need. It triangulates the insights gathered from the children, for example by corroborating the evidence on the educational and financial impact of the pandemic. This survey also provided insights from the social workers on the potential secondary harms that children may face in the future, for example increased incidence of female genital mutilation or child marriage. As such, they can better understand the impact of the crisis, be better placed to monitor what might or might not happen and take action to mitigate negative effects.   As the pandemic continues, UNICEF continuously adapts to ensure the most vulnerable children are not only protected, but that their voices are heard, and their experiences are considered when designing responses. Research is essential to this, but during this challenging time data collection methods must be adapted to overcome the constraints of the context and, most importantly, ensure children are being heard in an ethical and safe way. This rigorous, ethical research on COVID is generating lessons that will inform future work, both during and beyond this crisis.   Mark Gill (Consultant, UNICEF Innocenti), Olivia Bueno (Consultant, UNICEF Innocenti) and Lawrence Oduma (Project Manager, UNICEF Somalia).
How sport can help keep children engaged during COVID-19: Innovations South Africa
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How sport can help keep children engaged during COVID-19: Innovations South Africa

  This blog is part two of a series highlighting innovative responses to COVID-19 from S4D organizations. UNICEF Innocenti is conducting research on S4D in collaboration with the UNICEF- FCB and Barça Foundation partnership.  The first blog  in the series discussed innovative responses S4D organizations have taken  globally to adapt to the crisis. In this blog, we focus on one country, South Africa – which sets itself apart as a lower-middle income country with the highest number of S4D organizations. This blog explores the challenges faced in South Africa’s unique contexts and different responses to them.South African ContextSports for Development (S4D) is a key strategy for engaging children in South Africa.  A mapping exercise conducted as part of the Getting into the Game research programme initiated by Barça Foundation and UNICEF identified 265 S4D organisations operating in South Africa, many of which are implemented during or after school hours and use schools to reach young people.   On March 5th 2020, the first confirmed case of the COVID-19 was registered in the country and on March 26th a national lockdown, including school closures affecting over 14 million children, was announced by the President of the Republic. The latest phase of the lockdown in South Africa began June 1st, allowing easing of restrictions on movement of people and the reopening of schools. Even with the phased incremental reopening of schools, S4D organisations implementing programmes in schools depend on the guidance of the government in order to resume or continue S4D programmes.   This blog looks at eight organisations, five of which are implementing programmes supported by UNICEF South Africa and Barça Foundation as part of the UNICEF-FCB and Barça Foundation partnership. Each organization has responded to the crisis with some form of remote delivery. Table 1 reports basic information on the organizations and summarizes the responses. In addition to the remote delivery of S4D programming, some are also providing health information and support to other programs.  Remote engagementOrganisations have found innovative ways to keep coaches and participants engaged through activities conducted on social media platforms and WhatsApp. Grootbos’ coaches have maintained contact with beneficiaries through WhatsApp and Grootbos, Altus and PeacePlayers South Africa (PPSA) continue to provide support to coaches through videos on Social Media platforms and Zoom. The Department of Basic Education has launched a Facebook Live and Zoom Webinar Series on dialogues with young people around Covid-19 and School Based Violence (SBV), it also has regular WhatsApp based Covid-19 related dialogues, and has conducted a #StayHealthy, #StayAtHome fitness series via WhatsApp and Facebook. MAVU asked staff, volunteers, and their ambassadors to create and submit videos of themselves doing an activity whilst at home using equipment at their disposal; the videos were then disseminated across multiple social media channels.  PPSA has also been conducting twice weekly Zoom sessions where participants engage in team building, leadership, and basketball activities. It has also been disseminating these activities through social media and  keeping in touch regularly with participants and parents via WhatsApp and other social media platforms. “This experience participating in the Child Protection Week Webinar that dealt with Child Safety during Covid-19 was very informative and humbling as I got to understand that various children from various backgrounds have different struggles when it comes to the impact of the coronavirus and the lockdown.- Participant of GBEM programme To maximize reach and ensure equity, these organisations have also been helping their beneficiaries to access this remote programming. Grootbos, not being able to reach all their normal programme beneficiaries, has set up a free WIFI hotspot in the centre of the Masakhane township community. Altus has purchased data so that their leaders could attend their Zoom training workshops, PPSA has fundraised to buy data and airtime for participants, and UTS has provided high school learners with internet and computer access through their office, two EdTech centres, and through the purchase of data and airtime.   UNICEF leveraged its partnership with SuperSport broadcast platforms, the media and partners at its disposal to broadcast Covid-19 Public Service Announcements (PSAs) across the SuperSport Channels.  These PSAs are a means to support the amplification and reaching young people with critical of Covid-19 messaging premised on (1) children’s safety; (2) hygiene and social distancing practices; and (3) continuation of learning using different platforms and reach out to peers for support. United Through Sport created resource packs that go out with their food parcels and an interactive television show that is aired every afternoon on a local free to air television station which they will continue after the lockdowns ends. Most organisations highlighted that the lack of access to data and devices restricts participation of learners and sometimes coaches, especially the most vulnerable. This makes remote programming a challenge and raises equity concerns. “I have been able to send them pictures of some topics that we did in our Mbewu Life Skills books and videos of what they can do at their homes with family members and I really helped them a lot in a way that they will call maybe after two days saying they want another chapter their done with the one I gave them (…)- Fulltime volunteer coach at Mavu Sports  Furthermore, for many organisations the lack of prior emergency experience, coupled with capacity limitations has made adaptation a difficult process. This, together with the uncertainty around the duration of school closures and lockdowns, has encouraged many organisations to invest in digital training and speed up the regular processes of innovation and adaptation. As the recovery from this health and economic crisis is likely to last long after the re-opening of activities in the country, it will be crucial for S4D organisation to adapt programming and its delivery to the “new normal” and investing now in innovating and adapting programmes can help build resilience for this and future crisis. Are you part of an S4D organization? How has COVID-19 affected you? How have you responded and what have you learned? Please email us at cpasquini@unicef.org and tell us more about it. Chiara Pasquini is a consultant at the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti currently conducting research on the effectiveness of Sport for Development for Children globally. Ayanda Ndlovu is an Education Officer specializing in Sport-for-Development and Youth Engagement at UNICEF South Africa. Artur Borkowski is a consultant at the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti currently conducting research on the effectiveness of Sport for Development for Children globally.
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