COVID-19 and school closures are putting women’s economic future at risk

Mercer in AMEA launches P.A.G.E 150, a regional initiative to empower organisations that support Asian girls’ education.


Jakarta, Indonesia, 8 March, 2021 – The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing education disruption have left millions of girls at risk of school dropout across Asia Pacific. According to UNICEF, 20% of girls in East Asia and the Pacific, close to 40 million of them in total, have not been able to access distance learning during COVID-19 and 69% of girls reported studying and learning less than usual. 1 In South and West Asia, 2.8 million women and girls, across pre-primary and tertiary levels may not be able to return to school. In Indonesia, school closures have affected 62.5 million students. More than a third of Indonesian students have limited or no internet access, according to Indonesia’s Education Ministry, and experts fear many students will fall far behind, especially in remote areas where online study remains a novelty. While the extent of the impact of COVID-19 on girls’ education 2 remains unclear, what is certain is that it will have an adverse impact on their economic future.


The increased dropouts not only threatens decades of progress made towards gender equality, but also puts girls at risk of adolescent pregnancy, early and forced marriage, and violence. According to UNICEF, Indonesia has the eighth-highest number of child marriages in the world, with one in nine females marrying before turning 18. As economic pressures of COVID-19 rise, so will the risk of rising child marriages. Studies by the World Bank show that on average, just one year of additional schooling increases wages for women by 12%, compared to 10% for men, particularly at the secondary and tertiary levels. While the longstanding gap of girls in school enrollment has narrowed in the past decades, school closures as a result of the pandemic and the lack of access to distance learning may slow or reverse these gains, in turn hurting their economic prospects in the future.


Renee McGowan, Mercer’s President, AMEA (Asia, Middle East & Africa) said, “Research has shown that when a girl’s education is cut short, the impact is felt for generations. Through education, they earn higher incomes and build better futures for themselves and their families. Girls’ education strengthens economies and societies, giving everyone – including boys and men – the opportunity to fulfil their potential. The gender gaps in education, as a result of COVID-19, will translate to fewer women than men in the future workforce, worsening a disparity that has existed for decades both globally and regionally. This is serious cause for concern and one we hope to play a part in addressing.”


1 UNICEF Education COVID-19 Response Issue Brief: COVID-19 and Girls’ Education in East Asia and Pacific, October 2020

2 COVID-19 and Girls' Education: What We Know So Far and What We Expect, Centre for Global Development, October 2020


Powering Asian Girls’ Education: P.A.G.E 150
In conjunction with Marsh McLennan’s (MMC) 150th anniversary this year, Mercer in AMEA will launch P.A.G.E 150 on International Women’s Day (8 March) this year. P.A.G.E stands for Powering Asian Girls’ Education, while 150 is a reference to MMC’s anniversary year.


Mercer’s markets across the region will each pledge at least 150 skills-based volunteering hours over the next 12 months to a social enterprise dedicated to improving educational access and opportunities to girls from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds in their markets.


In Indonesia, Mercer will partner women’s rights advocacy group Institut KAPAL Perempuan who has helped empower and educate thousands of women from remote areas across Indonesia and who are the forefront of the movement to outlaw child marriage. 


Godelieve van Dooren, Mercer’s South East Asia Growth Markets Leader and Asia Zone Career Business Leader, said, “Globally, Indonesia ranks 8th highest in number of child marriages and KAPAL Perempuan is committed to changing that by helping girls continue their education. Through our partnership, we hope to support them by helping with organisation restructuring, reviewing their leadership and rewards assessment and formulating a simple pension plan for their employees. It’s our hope that they then grow sustainably to help more girls build brighter futures.”


Leveraging the expertise and capabilities of Mercer’s colleagues across AMEA, Mercer will support these social enterprises in addressing their challenges and reimagining their organisations for the future, whether through human resource projects such as reskilling and job redesign; investment advisory; strengthening their health and benefits program; or functional support such as marketing or accounting.


Ms McGowan added, “Many social enterprises have also been hard hit by the pandemic with fewer volunteers and donations. This could hurt their operations, staffing and growth prospects. By supporting them the best way we know how, we can help these organisations build back better and stronger so they can expand and support even more girls through education.


The pandemic has drawn urgent attention to the risks of growing gender gaps. Through our initiative, we hope to reverse some of these losses and help make a difference to our workforce of the future. ”


About Mercer

Mercer believes in building brighter futures by redefining the world of work, reshaping retirement and investment outcomes, and unlocking real health and well-being. Mercer’s approximately 25,000 employees are based in 43 countries and the firm operates in 130 countries. Mercer is a business of Marsh McLennan (NYSE: MMC), the world’s leading professional services firm in the areas of risk, strategy and people, with 83,000 colleagues and annual revenue of over $20 billion. Through its market-leading businesses including Marsh, Guy Carpenter and Oliver Wyman, Marsh McLennan helps clients navigate an increasingly dynamic and complex environment. For more information, visit Follow Mercer on Twitter @Mercer.