2020 has threatened to hobble progress on women’s equality as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks global havoc.
U.N. experts predict the gender poverty gap will widen in 2021 amid the economic downturn.
Here are 4 set-backs women and girls faced this year:
COVID-19 forced school closures in most countries, impacting hundreds of millions of girls.
In Africa, child rights groups fear many girls could drop out of school permanently, jeopardising decades of work to reverse deep-rooted gender inequalities.
School closures have put girls at increased risk of sexual violence and child marriage, while lockdown poverty has forced some into “transactional sex” to buy basics.
Several countries are already reporting spikes in teen pregnancies and early marriages, raising concerns that many girls may never return to class.
The United Nations has predicted the pandemic could lead to an extra 13 million child marriages over the next decade, potentially undoing decades of work to end the practice, as deepening poverty pushes families to marry off daughters early.
School closures have exacerbated the risks. Authorities in Ethiopia have rescued hundreds of girls since schools shut.
In Malawi, one charity reported a 350% rise in calls linked to child and forced marriages in the spring.
FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION
The United Nations has predicted 2 million more girls than previously predicted could undergo FGM in the next decade as COVID-19 disrupts efforts to end the practice.
Increased rates of cutting have been reported across East and West Africa with lockdowns seen as an opportunity to carry out FGM undetected.
Hardship has fueled the rise in some cases because parents think they can get better “bride prices” if daughters are cut, campaigners say.
In Somalia, circumcisers have gone door-to-door offering to cut girls stuck at home.
Campaigners in Kenya, which has vowed to end FGM by 2022, have reported mass cuttings in the Kuria community, with girls paraded through town centres and showered with gifts.
In Egypt, global media reported that a man was arrested for allegedly getting a doctor to cut his three daughters after conning them into thinking they were having COVID vaccinations.
Increasing poverty and school closures have left many girls and women more vulnerable to trafficking including online sexual exploitation, according to U.N. experts.
They say the economic downturn and job losses will likely increase trafficking from countries with the fastest and most prolonged falls in employment - a pattern seen during the global 2007-2008 financial crisis.
Charities say the trafficking of Cambodian “brides” to China has already risen sharply.
Globally, there has also been a surge in cybersex trafficking in which women and children are forced into sexual acts live-streamed for paying clients worldwide.
The Philippines - considered the epicentre of cybersex trafficking - reported that cases of online child sex abuse had tripled under coronavirus.