Girls in crisis

Adolescent girls experience crises differently to boys and women, and are particularly vulnerable to violence and exploitation. Policymakers and the humanitarian community view adolescent girls as powerless and rarely consult them about decisions that impact their lives. They have unique needs that are not addressed by humanitarian programmes targeting children or women. This means their specific needs are overlooked, with devastating consequences on their wellbeing, especially when they live in crisis settings for years.

Girls in a crisis setting

5 things to know:

  1. During a crisis, girls, especially those separated from their parents, face a high risk of abuse and exploitation. Rates of child marriage increase and many girls are recruited into armed groups or forced to do unpaid labour. To survive and care for their families, adolescent girls and young women are often forced to resort to transactional sex or fall prey to human trafficking.
  2. Rates of sexual violence and early marriage increase during a crisis, yet it is often harder for adolescent girls and young women to access sexual and reproductive health services and rights when they need them most. Too often, they do not have access to life-saving information and services to protect them against early or unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Even when services are available, fear of stigma is an obstacle that prevents many girls from accessing care. 
  3. Girls’ freedom of movement may be severely restricted in humanitarian settings when families are worried about safety. These constraints limit girls’ ability to attend school and access programmes and services, and prevent them from developing support networks critical to their wellbeing.
  4. Adolescent girls are not being heard. Despite their desire to contribute to solutions that impact their lives and communities, they are rarely consulted by humanitarian actors and are excluded from decision-making processes. As a result, policies and programmes often do not adequately address their needs.
  5. Access to education for displaced children, particularly girls, is critical for their immediate protection and wellbeing, and to safeguard their futures. Yet adolescent girls face unique barriers to education, which are exacerbated in crisis settings by heightened insecurity, exploitation, economic pressures, and harmful social norms, such as forced marriage.

What needs to happen:

  • Prevention of and response to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) must be prioritised in the initial humanitarian response to crises and address the specific risks faced by adolescent girls. Ensuring adolescent girls and young women have access to survivor-centered SGBV services, including case management and psychosocial support, is critical.
  • Interventions must be tailored to the specific needs of adolescent girls and young women, with comprehensive, cross-sectoral programming that addresses both immediate life-saving needs and promotes long-term resilience. Such programmes must include protection, education, health services, and economic empowerment activities.
  • Comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, supplies, and information must be funded and provided in consultation with adolescent girls and young women. Services must meet the needs of survivors of sexual violence and girls who are married, pregnant or already mothers.
  • All humanitarian actors must ensure needs assessments collect gender and age disaggregated data and that humanitarian response plans are analysed through an age and gender lens. They must also use participatory approaches to capture the perspectives of girls and boys of different ages, so programmes and responses respond to their specific needs.
  • All humanitarian actors must promote the systematic participation of adolescent girls in all decisions that affect their lives. Safe, gender-sensitive methods must be in place to allow girls to meaningfully participate in the design, implementation, and evaluation of humanitarian programmes and processes.
  • The humanitarian community must invest in inclusive and gender-responsive education models that respond to the unique needs of displaced children, particularly girls. This includes the provision of safe learning environments, and efforts to remove gender-specific barriers that prevent girls from accessing education.