The Big Shift: Eliminating Barriers to Girls’ Education

by World Bicycle Relief
March 8, 2021
The pandemic has only exacerbated the physical and cultural barriers standing in the way of girls' education, putting their futures at risk. World Bicycle Relief and UNICEF USA discuss how a shift in mindset can accelerate lasting change.
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Before COVID-19 struck, 132 million girls worldwide were already out of school, and the numbers have only increased in the past year. And more than 5 million girls are at risk of not returning to school following the pandemic, the Global Fund estimates.

What unexpected solutions could help mitigate the long-term effects on girls’ missed education while safely getting them back into classrooms? The Big Shift brings World Bicycle Relief and UNICEF USA together to examine how access to transportation and water can put women and girls at the forefront of transforming their own futures.

In developing regions across Africa, South America and Asia, gender roles are some of the biggest barriers to girls’ education. Some of the realities keeping girls out of school:

  • Domestic chores that must be completed before and after school, contributing to fatigue, tardiness and absenteeism
  • Long walks to and from school
  • Lack of access to clean water leads to long walks for collection and missing school during menstruation
  • Gender-based violence and sexual abuse
  • Early marriage and pregnancy

COVID-19 lockdowns have only intensified the above, with reports of increased teenage pregnancies, violence against women and girls, and forced marriage.


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A bicycle can help girls mitigate many of these obstacles, paving the way for access to education as well as healthcare, economic opportunities and improved self-worth. World Bicycle Relief aims to direct 70% of its program bicycles to girls, which not only puts them in control of their own futures but also benefits their families and communities.

Girls also directly benefit from access to water within communities and reducing the travel time for collection. UNICEF USA works to provide safe water, sanitation and hygiene services in the world’s most vulnerable communities, helping to keep girls in school and arriving on time.

As the pandemic continues to create increased hardships and burdens for girls, we must take immediate steps to help them move forward. By investing in girls, we can not only have a positive impact on their lives, but also the world.

A big thank you to our moderator and panelists:


Damaris parsitau Damaris Seleina Parsitau, Ph.D, 2017 Echidna Global Scholar at The Brookings Institution; Research Associate and Fellow (2018-2019), Harvard University; and Founder of Let Maasai Girls Learn



Wendy SerrinoWendy Serrino, International Council Member, Past Midwest Board Chair/Vice Chair at UNICEF USA; Co-Founder, North Shore Exchange




Karina GarciaKarina Garcia, World Bicycle Relief Monitoring & Evaluation Manager


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