Humanitarian crises hit everyone hard. They hit adolescent girls and women even harder.
Existing gender inequality already makes girls and women vulnerable. In times of disaster this is exacerbated. Inequality leaves girls and women disproportionately disadvantaged and less prepared to survive or recover.
Girls at risk in disasters
Adolescent girls face some of the biggest risks and challenges during disasters and crises, but they are also frequently missed by international assistance. While the rights and needs of women and children are recognised in emergency policy and planning, the specific needs and rights of adolescent girls are often ignored. A major reason is that most data does not monitor the specific needs of adolescent girls in disasters and the risks they face.
When girls’ needs are missed, humanitarian responses can reinforce gender inequalities
The increased risks for adolescent girls in emergencies include gender-based violence, trafficking and child, early and forced marriage. Malnutrition and disease are also common, as girls are often the first to go hungry where there is a scarcity of food. They are more likely to drop out of school and be forced to sell their bodies to help support their families in crises, as livelihoods come under stress.
On top of gender inequality, adolescent girls face double discrimination as a result of both their gender and age. While they are beginning to take on adult roles, they lack the skills, capacities and networks needed to navigate the risks faced by women. Moreover, for some girls the risks are even higher – girls with disabilities, for example, are even more vulnerable during times of crisis.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) carry the commitment of “leaving no one behind”. This dictates the need for specific efforts to address the rights and needs of girls and even more urgently, of millions living in fragile contexts.
Tracking the global goals
Plan International is launching an initiative to make adolescent girls’ and women’s needs and interests visible. With partners we are developing a data tracker to monitor the impact of the SDGs and hold states and others to account. Part of this work will help to show the lived reality of girls around the world and ensure action is taken to support and protect them in all contexts, including emergency situations.
During and after emergencies, programmes to support adolescent girls’ access to education and to protect them from violence and sexual exploitation are particularly important. For example, Plan International Rwanda provides Burundian women and girls in Mahama Refugee Camp with a safe room – a confidential and protected space for survivors of gender-based violence. It offers an opportunity for survivors to receive counselling, to seek refuge until a safe place to stay can be secured, and a place to build relationships with other survivors.
Other key interventions focus on keeping adolescent girls in school or helping them re-enter education when they have dropped out. In South Sudan and Niger, accelerated education programmes during disasters have given girls the opportunity to attend school for the first time. One way Plan International is helping keep adolescent mothers in school is by providing early childhood development services to their children. In this way, we have helped 2 generations of girls at the same time.
When girls’ needs are missed, humanitarian responses can reinforce gender inequalities. Moreover, when girls are not provided with safe access to life-saving information, services and resources, the potential to build and harness their capacities is lost.
Realising girls’ rights
Interventions such as those in South Sudan and Niger, however, provide a chance to promote longer-term changes in the lives of adolescent girls. Programmes targeted at adolescent girls can also use the small window of opportunity presented by emergencies to encourage community discussion around the rights and potential of girls.
By bringing adolescent girls’ invisible needs into view, our data tracker project will help build the case for this kind of programming and increase the momentum behind it. So that by 2030, every emergency response takes steps to ensure adolescent girls benefit from the education and protection they have a right to expect.
As the first ever World Humanitarian Summit gets underway in Istanbul, hopes are high for a global response to address the suffering of millions affected by humanitarian crises. The summit must reinforce the SDGs’ optimism, and the promise of the leaving no one behind – particularly for millions of girls in fragile settings who need governments to take concrete action. Change starts with making these invisible girls visible.