COVID-19 and the efforts to suppress it will have an alarming impact on the lives and rights of girls and young women. Already treated as second class citizens in many countries, they are least likely to return to school or find a new job, and most likely to suffer abuse and violence at home when the protective umbrella of education and care systems are no longer in place.
At the end of March 2020, some 743 million girls are out of school and all over the world reports of domestic violence are already on the rise.
Teenage pregnancies are also likely to increase as adolescent girls are sexually exploited and are forced to turn to risky strategies to feed themselves and their families.
Plan International has been listening to what girls are saying about the reality of living under lockdown. They are feeling bored, frustrated, alarmed and frightened and they need clear information on the pandemic and support to deal with its impact on them and their families.
What we already know
To aid our understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on girls and young women, as well as talking to girls in lockdown, Plan International has re-examined four previous studies of crises6 to try and get a clearer picture of the insecurity and vulnerability facing girls now.
We have drawn specific lessons from our study of the Ebola crisis of 2014-2015 in West Africa where school closures and other measures to limit movement had damaging long-term effects on children and particularly girls.
- School closures in all crises have impacts beyond the direct loss of education: the loss of social contact, of the support of peers and teachers, of the opportunity to build networks for the future and the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health and rights information, all have negative effects on girls.
- We face a huge risk of increased child marriage and unwanted pregnancy. In Sierra Leone there was a 65% increase in teenage pregnancy due to girls being out of school during the Ebola crisis.
- Being forced to be at home makes children vulnerable to violence and abuse or makes them witness to the domestic violence that we know is increasing.
- In our Ebola study 88% of adults and children said they faced economic hardships, including lack of food. Girls were often forced into risky behaviour in order to put food on the table.
- Women and girls experienced heightened exposure to the virus due to their traditional roles as caregivers, looking after sick relatives and younger children.