3 Ways Adolescent Girls Are Leading Local COVID-19 Responses - CARE

3 Ways Adolescent Girls Are Leading Local COVID-19 Responses

Three adolescent girls sit at a wooden desk in a classroom.

Photo: Josh Estey/CARE

Photo: Josh Estey/CARE

A new CARE report reveals adolescent girls are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, but they’re also at the forefront of finding solutions

The coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted the health, well-being and safety of adolescent girls around the world, according to a new CARE report, and yet, they are often being neglected in COVID-19 responses.

“In many cases, governments, donors, and those implementing programs tend to focus on either children or adults, leaving adolescent girls in an in-between category — with girls often getting lost in the shuffle,” says Debbie Landis, Senior Gender in Emergencies Policy Specialist with CARE and the report’s co-author.

Adolescent girls’ age, gender, and developmental stage make them particularly vulnerable during times of crisis. As a result, they face an increased risk of exposure to a variety of protection concerns including gender-based violence, early and forced marriage, human trafficking, and harmful work.

Anushka Kalyanpur, who specializes in sexual and reproductive health and rights in emergencies at CARE and co-authored the report, explains that adolescent girls have few support systems to rely on. “Their support networks are often disrupted during crises. Many of them aren’t going to school right now and their risks are further exacerbated.”

13

million

more child marriages could take place by 2030 than would have occurred prior to

The coronavirus, which has caused over 1.1 million deaths worldwide to date, is causing unprecedented social and economic challenges that threaten progress in the fights against poverty and gender inequality.

“If left unaddressed, these issues have huge implications, not only for the girls themselves but also for the future, and for the next generation of society — so this is a crucial time,” Debbie says.

Although adolescent girls are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, across the world, from Ecuador to India, girls are leading the way in vocalizing and responding to their needs. Here are three ways adolescent girls are combatting risks brought about by the pandemic:

1. Adolescent girls are leading communication initiatives to inform their communities and peers about COVID-19 and its associated risks.

Misinformation during the pandemic is rife. The spread of false or inaccurate information about the coronavirus endangers people including those who have low digital or health literacy. Around the world, adolescent girls are taking on roles in their communities to share accurate information about the pandemic, addressing myths and misinformation about COVID-19 and ensuring their peers know the possible implications of the virus on their health and well-being.

In India, Kishori Samooh, a girls’ collective that empowers young women in rural areas, has been working to disseminate information about COVID-19. Adolescent girls in the group created posters and other messages for their communities that clarify misconceptions about how the virus spreads.

In Colombia, adolescent girls are serving as focal points in their communities on the health and rights of girls during the pandemic. They are creating murals and using social media to raise awareness on health risks girls may face during the pandemic, from an increased risk of violence to a lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services.

A group of adolescent girls stand in a circle outdoors in a village.
Adolescent girls join a Tipping Point Project group activity in Bangladesh. Photo: Tapash Paul/CARE

2. Adolescent girls are collecting data about their peers, which is being used to inform humanitarian decisions.

While data on COVID-19 is prevalent, it is often aggregated in a way that makes it difficult to understand the specific needs of adolescent girls. As a result, Debbie emphasizes the importance of seeking to capture this information through ongoing research and “using this data to inform programming and policy development.”

Since information about adolescent girls’ experiences often remains hidden within existing data, adolescent girls from around the world are contributing to data collection.

“At the end of the day, girls are not only impacted by COVID-19 and other crises but also serving on the front lines often as first responders, when adequately supported.”

In Nepal, researchers planned to survey adolescent girls about their mobility, but, ironically, were unable to access the people they planned to survey because of mobility restrictions during the pandemic. Meanwhile, girls who participated in CARE’s Tipping Point Project, which promotes the rights of adolescent girls, were in areas where they could easily access their peers. The girls used their proximity and connections to act as data collectors and gather information, which will be used to advocate for and promote the mobility rights of girls in Nepal.

This data ensures that adolescent girls’ needs are well documented, and that governments and donors have adequate information to support decision making.

3. Adolescent girls are finding innovative ways to support each other in accessing essential services.

Amid service disruptions created by the pandemic, adolescent girls around the world are finding creative ways to adapt programming and reach their peers while being mindful of COVID-19 safety protocols.

In Belgrade, adolescents are engaging in virtual support groups to discuss the psychosocial impact of the pandemic and explore positive coping strategies. Similarly, youth-led organizations in Sarajevo and Kosovo have used digital platforms to hold discussion groups and life skills sessions to help their peers to navigate loneliness and life during quarantine.

In Niger and Bangladesh, through CARE’s IMAGINE project, CARE has worked with adolescent girl leaders to adapt GBV prevention and response services amid the pandemic. CARE staff determined that girl leaders were best positioned to advise on ways programming could be adjusted, and the decision was made to support girls to provide psychological first aid and referrals to necessary services.

“At the end of the day, girls are not only impacted by COVID-19 and other crises but also serving on the front lines often as first responders, when adequately supported,” Anushka says. “These are the future leaders of the world. We really need to invest in them now.”