Disrupted lives: How has COVID-19 impacted girls and young women around the world? By Louise Tapper
With the COVID-19 pandemic still front and centre around the world, I thought I would follow on from Sharon Gardner’s thoughtful research reflection last month and look at the impact that the ongoing pandemic is having on girls and young women globally. I am especially interested in what it has been like for young women because a colleague and I have been working on a project which involved asking a group of young women here in Ōtatauhi/Christchurch about their experiences of living through the pandemic. You can find some of these stories here.
Globally, COVID-19 has been particularly traumatic for girls and young women across all aspects of their lives. Sadly, inequalities that already existed for so many young girls in many parts of the world have been exacerbated by the impacts of the pandemic. The chance to have an education, for equal opportunities in employment or just to contribute to their family’s livelihood have become much more difficult for young girls in many countries.
Plan International is an independent development and humanitarian organisation which advocates for policy and practice that improves the lives of girls and young women. The organisation commissioned two research reports to explore the thoughts and experiences of girls and young women from 14 different countries about the pandemic. Halting Lives: The Impact of COVID-19 on Girls and Young Women (2020) reports on a survey carried out in 2020 with 7,000 girls and young women aged 15-24. Halting Lives 2 (2021) is a follow up study which used a qualitive methodology. Interviews with seventy-four young women from the same 14 countries were held between July 2020 and January 2021.
Halting Lives 2 (2021) found that the three most concerning areas for young women and girls across all countries were around the impacts that the pandemic was having on their education, their mental health and their livelihoods.
The global fight to support more young girls across the world to access education has been slowed by COVID-19. Young girls worried about being able to continue their education. Many found that learning from home was not suitable as internet access was often unreliable or unaffordable. The girls and young women were very open about their concerns around their own mental health. Several reported feelings of anxiety, stress, loneliness and depression. The girls were worried about catching the virus, but also about their education, about not being able to see their friends and about the uncertainty of life while the pandemic was ongoing. Many of the young women no longer had part-time jobs and so couldn’t contribute to the family finances. Families had lost their main source of income because of COVID-19 and this impacted on the money available for girls’ education.
Despite the challenges, the girls and young women’s outlook for the future remained positive and hopeful. They had adjusted to the ‘new normal’ and were still committed to their future plans, especially around their education. The majority of the young girls had developed strategies to cope with their worries such as trying out new activities, talking to supportive family and friends and thinking about how to proactively protect their mental health. The Halting Lives 2 study concluded with several recommendations but one that really resonated with me was this one:
“Global, regional and national decisionmakers must promote and ensure the involvement of girls and women, as well as their wider communities… so that their interests are represented in the pandemic response and the solutions adopted to protect lives, prevent the spread of the virus and plan for the future” (p.33).
I would love to see girls and young women empowered to be part of the solution to this global crisis that affects so many aspects of their present and future lives.