Long-lasting consequences of COVID-19 for girls will be abuse and hunger

30 APRIL 2020

Research into previous humanitarian crises suggests without urgent action, the long-lasting consequences of COVID-19 for girls worldwide will be abuse, neglect, fear and hunger.

Research carried out by Plan International into previous humanitarian crises reveals the devastating impacts emergencies have on girls, both immediately and in the longer term. 

According to analysis of previous crises, including the Ebola epidemic, the effects of 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:

  • Failing to return to school, 
  • Failing to find employment when economies reopen, 
  • Suffering abuse and violence at home while the protective umbrella of education and care systems are no longer in place, 
  • Economic hardships/lack of food,
  • An increase in child marriage and unwanted pregnancy,
  • Greater exposure to infection by the virus, due to traditional roles as primary caregivers. 

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International, said “We know from our analysis of previous research that girls are badly impacted in emergencies.”

“The concern is not just on the health consequences of COVID-19; there are negative impact from efforts to suppress it as well. We have been speaking to girls living under lockdown and they’re alarmed, frustrated, frightened and bored. They need clear information on the pandemic and support to deal with its impact on them and their families.”

COVID-19 responses will affect the world girls grow up in

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. 

The economic, social and psychological impact on those already vulnerable will be huge.

With 743 million* girls currently forced out of school, parental pressure to help at home or earn an income means many adolescent girls may be unable to return to school. If education needs are not prioritised, we risk reversing 20 years of gains in girls’ education, as well as leaving vulnerable girls without access to social support networks.

There has also been an alarming increase in reports of gender-based violence worldwide. In China at the height of the quarantine, there was a threefold increase in calls to women’s shelters regarding violence at home and Refuge UK reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day.

Lack of access to psychosocial and protection support, loss of livelihoods and income and diversion of funds from sexual and reproductive health services could have catastrophic long-term consequences for an entire generation of girls.

Many girls may never recover socially or psychologically

Ms Albrectsen said “The economic, social and psychological impact on those already vulnerable will be huge. Many may never recover. Without a concerted effort from us all, chief among these will be girls.”

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. The organisation’s response, covering at least 50 countries, will specifically focus on assisting girls, who are disproportionately affected by crises. 

We are calling on authorities to ensure families are protected from hunger with cash assistance to vulnerable households, while helplines and refuges must be provided to help protect girls and women from gender-based violence. 

Authorities must work with teachers and mobile phone companies to make distance education affordable and accessible to all. Governments must also ensure girls and young women continue to have access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. 

Plan International is listening now to the experience of girls and amplifying their voices and that of scientists and policy makers who are calling for a more gendered response to the challenges facing us all.