According to the Plan International's new research, adolescent girls have been stripped of their basic rights and freedoms in one of the most volatile and impoverished regions in the world. From extreme violence, to loss of education, health, food and livelihoods – girls are enduring some of the most catastrophic consequences of conflict, food insecurity and mass displacement.
The research for Adolescent Girls in Crisis: Voices from the Sahel included a mixture of focus group discussions, key interviews and quantitative data from more than 800 adolescent girls. They revealed how their lives have been turned upside down by violence and instability, and how restrictive norms and attitudes of their families and communities have left them feeling trapped and powerless.
“Often you can’t do what you want, because you don’t belong to yourself,” said Aminata* from Burkina Faso.
Key findings of the research include:
- Adolescent girls live in fear and building peace is their priority: the pervasive
- insecurity impacts on all areas of their lives – education, health, food and livelihoods.
- In both Burkina Faso and Mali nearly a third of the girls surveyed had never
- attended school or had attended for just a year. While many schools have been destroyed or attendance is unsafe, girls often are not going to school because they have reached the age when it is customary that they stay at home to prevent them mixing with boys.
- Early marriage is pervasive and affects many aspects of girls’ lives, including their educational opportunities and agency.
- Girls prioritise information about sexual and reproductive health and need access to psychosocial support.
- Girls’ livelihoods are important to them: they want to earn money, to contribute to their families and to help secure their future.
Rotimy Djossaya, Plan International West and Central Africa Regional Director, said: “Girls are living through a triple tragedy in the region. Conflict, food insecurity and economic collapse have all combined to create a catastrophic situation for adolescent girls who are under attack on all fronts.”
“Girls are already discriminated against and undervalued due to prevailing gender norms. The ongoing crisis is pushing them to the brink. Our research shows that girls have dropped out of school, being forced into child marriage, facing sexual violence and fighting hunger. A whole generation of girls in the Sahel is at great risk.”
All areas of girls' lives controlled
Girls are already discriminated against and undervalued due to prevailing gender norms. The ongoing crisis is pushing them to the brink.
In a survey, Plan International found that in all areas – from who to marry, to attending school or accessing sexual and reproductive health services, girls’ lives were controlled overwhelmingly by their fathers.
The conflict in the Sahel is complex and multi-layered. An already insecure situation has been made much worse by long-running intercommunal tensions and repeated violent attacks involving non-state armed groups.
In the last 12 months, the number of displaced people in Burkina Faso has increased tenfold to 848,329 people. In Mali the displaced population is over 239,000. 3.7 million people across the countries face food insecurity.
Girls and young women are particularly hard hit in crises or emergencies, due to harmful social norms and double discrimination based on age and gender.
Access to education must be restored
Girls’ access to education is being severely impacted. 2,500 schools are closed in Burkina Faso due to insecurity and 1,100 schools in Mali are non-functioning (pre-COVID-19 school closures). But from what adolescent girls tell us it is not just conflict, poverty and insecurity that is having an impact on their school attendance but pre-existing discrimination.
“People here don’t like that we go to school. They give us in marriage at the earliest age,” explained Mariam*, 14, from Mali.
Based on evidence from the girls, Plan International is calling for governments and the international community to prioritise peace-building negotiations and help bring an end to the conflict.
Barriers that impede adolescent girls’ access to education must be recognised and lifted, and schools, teachers and students must be protected. Gender-based discrimination must be tackled, through community mobilisation and engaging with adolescent boys and men as advocates for girls’ rights.
Girls’ voices must be listened to, their needs prioritised and their skills for leadership developed.