World Refugee Day

How girls are taking the lead

Saturday June 20 is World Refugee Day which is an important day to acknowledge the plight of refugees around the world and the efforts to protect their human rights.

Conflict, food insecurity and climate change are driving millions of people from their homes across the world. Families who are displaced are at risk of extreme violence, loss of education, health, food and livelihoods. COVID-19 is having a devastating impact across the world, but for the millions already living in refugee camps or conflict affected areas, it has meant a crisis on top of a crisis.

Plan International work across the world to support children and their families caught up in crisis. We know from experience that refugee girls bear a significant brunt in times of crisis – they face additional challenges of gender-based violence, unpaid care burden, and sexual exploitation.

Their voices often the least heard, and their rights and needs left unmet.

Yet despite the challenges they face they have huge potential and should be able to contribute to decisions about their lives.

helping communities cope with COVID-19


One such girl was 12-year-old Majd (pictured above) in Jordan who has been out of school for two months.

Jordan enacted one of the strictest lockdowns seen worldwide to combat COVID-19. When the lockdown came into effect, girls and young women in the Azraq Refugee camp began distributing sanitised handicraft kits and inviting other girls and women to join group call sessions on how to make masks.

I like the sessions which are done through WhatsApp, they help keep me busy and take my mind away from the pandemic which is scary.

Girls and young women taking the lead


Young women in the camp have also been leading and implementing parenting, life skills, literacy and youth club sessions using social media.

Girls in Youth Committees have helped facilitate online life skills sessions for children that highlight issues such as the importance of girls’ rights, mental health, wellbeing, education and safe spaces.

While there is quite rightly a focus on vulnerabilities of refugees in light of both existing humanitarian crises and the current COVID-19 pandemic, the agency and power of adolescent girls and young women in preparing for and responding to humanitarian crises can often be overlooked.

Adolescent girls face challenges that are different to those faced by adult women and boys. Harmful social norms, gender-based violence in the home or the community, lack of access to education, early marriage and pregnancy are all major obstacles that are amplified in times of humanitarian crisis.

Yet, despite the large numbers of adolescent girls so profoundly affected by ongoing crises around the world, there are very few examples of specific research focusing on the capacities, vulnerabilities and opportunities of adolescent girls living in refugee camps or settlements.

Consulting refugee girls and young women


Over the past three years, Plan International has undertaken extensive research and consultations, interviewing displaced adolescent girls in refugee camps and settlements in South Sudan, Lake Chad, Bangladesh Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Lebanon and most recently, the Sahel region of Burkina Faso and Mali. The consultations placed the voices of adolescent girls at the centre of their methodology to collect primary data on their needs, priorities, risks and barriers.

By seeking out the usually unheard-voices of girls and young women in crises, these consultations sought to provide this understanding; focusing not just on areas of concern for adolescent girls, but also on the positive ways in which they respond to their circumstances and strive to support their communities.

Key findings include the following:

  • Their hopes for the future and the dreams which have survived all that they have been through. Adolescent girls believe in the possibility of change and also in their own ability to contribute to it.


  • Adolescent girls understand how to improve their lives. Despite the adverse circumstances they are living under, they show resourcefulness, imagination, leadership, compassion, sacrifice, consideration of others, resilience and a desire to contribute to society: the very qualities that their communities will need as they seek to map a path out of crisis.


  • The inability to control their lives, to be consulted about decisions that affect them is reflected on by adolescent girls everywhere. They reported that people working in the humanitarian sector, even when they are planning services for adolescent girls, rarely talk to the girls themselves.

Girls have hope and are looking to the future


Understanding the ways in which adolescent girls experience and navigate existing humanitarian crises, including COVID-19, provides a foundation in addressing their concerns and strengthening their capacities.

For example Majd is still very much looking towards her future.

I wake up between 8 and 9am and help my mother with household chores. After we have breakfast, I tune in to school lessons broadcast on TV before working on my homework issued by my schoolteachers through WhatsApp groups. I hope to become a doctor one day.

Plan International has published the findings of this research in South Sudan, the Lake Chad Basin, Bangladesh, Lebanon and the Sahel in the Girls in Crisis reports series.

It is clear from these reports that despite the challenges they face, adolescent girls demonstrate resilience, entrepreneurial skills, a desire to help others, optimism for the future and insightfulness.

These attributes are essential in strengthening the leadership and meaningful participation of girls and young women in all decision-making processes to ensure their perspectives are heard and rights are addressed.

Plan International, through its Centre of Excellence: Girls in Displaced Settings is supporting intentional adolescent girl engagement, so their opinions, ideas, and experiences are integrated into program interventions, to keep working towards a brighter future for all girls.