COVID-19 and the efforts to suppress it will have an alarming impact on the lives and rights of girls and young women. Already treated as second class citizens in many countries, they are least likely to return to school or find a new job, and most likely to suffer abuse and violence at home when the protective umbrella of education and care systems are no longer in place.
Our latest report, Living Under Lockdown: Girls and COVID-19, is a review of evidence into how emergencies and humanitarian crises affect girls differently and includes interviews with girls specifically impacted by COVID-19.
According to analysis of previous crises, including the Ebola epidemic, hunger and conflict in South Sudan and the Lake Chad Basin, the Rohingya refugee crisis and the refugee camps in Beirut, Lebanon, girls are at risk of:
Governments have responded quickly to the spread of COVID-19, with containment measures and lockdowns now affecting at least half the world’s population. But the consequences of these measures will fundamentally affect the world in which girls grow up.
At the end of March 2020, some 743 million girls are out of school and all over the world reports of domestic violence are already on the rise.
Teenage pregnancies are also likely to increase as adolescent girls are sexually exploited and are forced to turn to risky strategies to feed themselves and their families.
Anne-Marie McCarthy, head of Plan International’s Lake Chad programme – one of the most severe humanitarian emergencies in the world – said these alarming ripple effects threaten to undo decades of gains in girls’ rights.
The economic, social and psychological impact on those already vulnerable will be huge. Many may never recover. Without a concerted effort to respond to the specific risks to girls, we face a terrible reality that many of the gains in gender equality and girls’ rights we’ve made over the past few decades will vanish.
“We’ve been speaking to girls living under lockdown in Lake Chad and they have told us that education is a major protective mechanism in their lives which offers a safe space to develop networks outside of the family and is a source of resilience. Once girls drop out of school it is generally very difficult to return.”
The report found that in the Lake Chad Basin, over a fifth of girls surveyed said that they had experienced hitting or beating in the last month, with 60% of these incidents occurring within the household.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, COVID-19 could have far reaching impacts on the effort to end gender-based violence and child marriage, with a potential 13 million child marriages occurring over the next decade that could have otherwise been averted.
Plan International has been listening to what girls are saying about the reality of living under lockdown. They are feeling bored, frustrated, alarmed and frightened and they need clear information on the pandemic and support to deal with its impact on them and their families. Here’s what they said: