How will COVID-19 affect girls and young women?

How will Plan International support girls, young women and vulnerable groups? Frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 pandemic. 

All over the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating effect on the lives of children, girls and young women, the worst economic, social and health crisis of our lifetimes.

COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on people’s health and livelihoods in almost every country in the world. Extreme poverty is on the rise for the first time since 1998.

COVID-19 is contributing to a dramatic escalation in food insecurity, causing a global hunger crisis in many of the world’s nations.

What is coronavirus/COVID-19?

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.
The virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes 
Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment.  
Older people and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness. 

(Source: WHO). 

How can we protect ourselves against the virus?

How to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The best way to prevent and slow down transmission is to be well informed about the COVID-19 virus, the disease it causes and how it spreads.  
Protect yourself and others from infection by washing your hands or using an alcohol-based rub frequently and not touching your face. 

Practice physical distancing where possible, avoid unnecessary travel and stay away from large groups of people. Stay at home if you feel unwell. 

Find out more via the World Health Organization.

How are children affected by COVID-19?

Disease outbreaks affect girls and boys, women and men differently. While children’s health appears less impacted by COVID-19 than older adults, children’s education will be interrupted, protective structures disrupted, and their families and communities placed under stress by health and economic burdens. 
Children are also at risk of psychological distress at times of crisis, as well as increased risk of violence, abuse exploitation and neglect. Disease outbreaks and the measures taken to control them can increase children’s risk of violence, abuse, exploitation or neglect. Essential ongoing support and case management for vulnerable and at-risk children may be blocked by social distancing measures. 

How are girls and women affected by coronavirus?

Disease outbreaks increase girls’ and young women’s duties caring for elderly and ill family members, as well as for siblings who are out of school. Girls, especially those from marginalised communities and with disabilities, may be particularly affected by the secondary impacts of the outbreak. 

 A girl washes her hands in a temporary camp in Indonesia.
 A girl washes her hands in a temporary camp in Indonesia.

Due to the consequences of COVID-19, girls are being exposed to new risks – including child, early and forced marriage, violence, early pregnancy and sexual exploitation, as well as limited or no access to education when schools are closed and a heightened risk of never returning. When food is scarce, girls often eat less and eat last, and in times of hunger, face further  risk of being removed from school.

Girls face increased risk of gender-based violence and child labour. Economic challenges during the outbreak pose a serious threat to young women’s work and business activity and expose them to increased risk of exploitation and abuse. Girls and young women facing severe economic shocks are more likely to take on high-risk work for their economic survival. 

Distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine

It is critical that COVID-19 vaccines are fairly distributed around the world, and that low and middle-income countries don’t miss out.

Failing to do so would be a catastrophic moral failure and could lead to a profound setback to girls’ and women’s rights. A prolonged pandemic will continue to exacerbate growing gender, social and economic inequalities, with devastating consequences for those most at risk.

The COVAX initiative was launched in 2020, with the aim of guaranteeing global access to COVID-19 vaccines. COVAX’s initial goal was to provide two billion doses of vaccines worldwide in 2021, and 1.8 billion doses to 92 lower income countries by early 2022 to help achieve WHO’s targets to vaccinate 70% of the global population by the middle of 2022. 

As of 13th January 2022, more than 4.65 billion people worldwide have received a COVID-19 vaccine, equal to about 59.6% of the world population. However, the WHO’s milestones have not been reached: just 9.6% of people in low-income countries have been vaccinated with at least one dose, compared to 66.33% in high-income countries.

Some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable individuals are suffering as a result of the worldwide failure to share vaccines equally. New variants of concern indicate that infection risks have grown in all countries for those who have not yet been vaccinated.

The emergence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant has raised fresh fears about the pandemic globally, and is a clarion call for the world to move faster towards ending vaccine inequity. The longer vaccination inequities persist, the more the virus will spread and evolve, and the more social and economic disruption will occur.

Plan International believes that the ongoing failure to ensure equitable access to and availability of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines in low- and middle-income countries is not only impeding progress towards ending the acute pandemic; but is compounding and deepening the setback to girls’ and women’s rights, leaving them even further behind.

New waves of COVID-19 resulting from new variants have further exacerbated gender, social and economic inequalities, severely impacting those most at risk. We believe that equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines between and within countries must be recognised as a fundamental human rights issue and as a humanitarian imperative, and that it is the responsibility of all leaders to fulfil this right. No one should be left behind.

What is Plan International doing to respond to the pandemic?

We are responding to the COVID-19 outbreak by adapting our current programmes and implementing new remote approaches to ensure we address the immediate and medium impacts of the outbreak. We’re supplying handwashing facilities and information on stopping the spread of COVID-19 to marginalised communities.

We're supplying handwashing facilities and information on stopping the spread of COVID-19 to marginalised communities.
We’re supplying handwashing facilities and information on stopping the spread of COVID-19 to marginalised communities.

Women and girls suffer most during emergencies, so we’re striving to ensure their needs are addressed and not left behind. Our response is tailored towards the most vulnerable communities in which we already work.

We are focusing on WASH, health, education, child protection, cash transfers and food assistance, community engagement, and emergency response for refugees and internally displaced people.

Plan International is also calling for equitable distribution of and access to vaccines worldwide.

What can I do to help those affected?

At Plan International, we are extremely concerned about how COVID-19 is affecting the most vulnerable populations. Reduced infrastructure and healthcare provisions make the virus harder to control. This, in turn, makes the pandemic harder to control. 

We must do all we can to ensure the world’s most vulnerable children and young people get the support they need during this ongoing crisis. To do this we need your help.  

Plan International is raising €100 million to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable children and their communities from the impacts of COVID-19. Our response, covering more than 50 countries, is focused on assisting children – particularly girls, who are disproportionately affected by the crisis.