While the evolving circumstances and news around COVID-19 are novel, we know that the global effects of a pandemic are not—they further exacerbate the inherent vulnerabilities of at-risk populations, especially for girls.
The good news? This pandemic also offers a huge opportunity, for it shines a spotlight on the structural inequalities faced by girls. If we seize this opportunity and address these inequities, we will come out of this crisis stronger, with a new appreciation of girls’ resilience and strength. We will be laying the groundwork for girl-led transformational change in our communities.
According to UNESCO, COVID-19 has forced 743 million girls out of school in 185 countries. A corresponding increase in the rates of poverty, household responsibilities, child labor and teen pregnancy will prevent many girls from returning to complete their education.
On top of this, lack of access to technology among the most vulnerable populations means it is impossible to continue studying during this time. In previous crises, such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, girls re-enrolled in some communities at half the rate of their male peers.
Now, if girls do not return to school, the result will be a widening gender gap in education, increased risk of sexual exploitation, early and unintended pregnancy, early and forced marriage and a dramatic decline in health education and resources.
“Schools are left empty as an abandoned nest. I am so sad. Being at school can help to protect girls from pregnancy and marriage. Many of my friends are getting pregnant and I realized some have been forced into early marriage.”—Christiana, 17, Sierra Leone during the Ebola Crisis of 2014 (UNESCO)
Several studies, including one from the UN Development Program, report that school closures increase girls’ risk of physical and sexual abuse as girls are left unsupervised and home alone. A Save The Children study covering 50 villages in Sierra Leone revealed that most girls reported the increase in gender-based violence during the Ebola crisis was a direct result of being outside the protective school environment.
“Tension is high at home because parents have not been working after the nationwide lockdown and the curfew. Due to this there have been cases of domestic violence because of stress and depression.”—Abigael, 13, Kenya (Excerpt from a letter sent to Global G.L.O.W. on April 21, one month after COVID-19 lockdown measures were put in place in Kenya)
Organizations working with girls around the world know that it is critical to recalibrate during this unprecedented time so that we all can continue to promote long-term systemic change with girls’ voices at the center. Courageous, educated girls transform social norms within their families, give back to their communities and ultimately are the source of the ripple effect that positively engages and activates everyone.
At Global G.L.O.W., we envision a world where girls thrive and are a force for positive change. Girls in our programs around the world have shown themselves to be resilient leaders in the community during this pandemic, educating and showing the way for their communities:
Due to their success spreading vital information via the radio during the Ebola crisis, girls in Global G.L.O.W. programs in Sierra Leone, through partner organization Child Welfare Society, were approached by their local government to utilize the radio again to inform and engage communities about staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Cambodia, girls in our programs are making up for a severe shortage of protective equipment in hospitals by sewing non-medical masks. They are working with our partner World Assistance for Cambodia to sew and deliver these important supplies.
Girls in Global G.L.O.W. programs in Kenya, with the assistance of partner organization Rift Valley Reading, created posters to educate their neighbors with limited access to technology about how to stay safe from COVID-19.
In India, through partner organization Holy Cross, girls are using art to educate their community about safety during the pandemic. They’ve created lively dances and elaborate drawings as effective and engaging tools for education and awareness.
Sahabnam—a 13-year-old girl in Afghanistan who takes part in Global G.L.O.W. programming through partner organization ASCHIANA—has been using cooking to help her neighbors in need while her city is in lockdown. Sahabnam’s dream is to open an all-female-run restaurant to create economic independence for women, and during this pandemic she has been cooking with whatever supplies are available in her home and sharing her homemade cooking with her neighbors.
Girls around the world are creatively speaking out and showing themselves to be leaders of change in their communities—even in the midst of a pandemic that has immobilized many. Through their actions, these girls are becoming more resilient and strong. They are inspiring others to have hope for a future where all can flourish and are making their communities stronger in the process.
The evolving circumstances surrounding COVID-19 are going to continue to impact the world’s most vulnerable populations.
As we continue to take on this pandemic, let’s lift up the voices and actions of girls and support their efforts. Let’s keep informed by supporting girl-centered organizations. Let’s amplify the efforts of girls and shed light on how their resilience continues to transform communities.
Global G.L.O.W. is a 501(c)(3) organization working to accelerate girls’ greatness today so that they can build a better tomorrow. Founded in 2012 and operating in 23 countries, Global G.L.O.W. empowers young women and girls worldwide to self-advocate, strengthening themselves and their communities.