“People here are scared because COVID-19 does not have any known cure.” Madhu, Nepal
“I miss my friends quite a bit.” Antsa, Madagascar
In the last few months, our lives have been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. For girls around the world, this has meant facing increasing threats to their safety and well-being, including harmful practices, violence, exploitation, abuse, neglect, social exclusion and separation from caregivers and friends.
The closure of schools, health and protection services to contain the spread of COVID-19 leaves girls even more vulnerable, extending and intensifying the current crisis. While the pandemic has received wide coverage, the voices and stories of adolescent girls have often been missing, although they are and will be heavily impacted.
“Currently, many parents do not have a job and money for school fees. So, they have started planning to send their children to work. In the case of girls, they may plan to marry them off at an early age.” Sangamithra, India
For five weeks between May and June 2020, UNICEF collaborated with adolescent girls from nine countries, asking them to share their lives through the lens of their mobile phones. We asked them to capture their ‘new normal’ and share their thoughts, ideas and beliefs on COVID-19 and other issues in their lives.
Launching on 24 July, “Coping with COVID-19” is a five-part series – with a new episode launching each Friday – in which we will meet a group of adolescent girls from South Asia and West and Southern Africa who show that adolescent girls have a voice, they just need a platform to speak. This platform gives them a chance to be heard – they are empowered, they act, and they stand up for themselves and their loved ones. They outline what they want most of all: a future – where they can choose education, work, dreams, and love.
In the context of Generation Equality, UNICEF aims to lift the voices of adolescent girls – although they might face many challenges during COVID-19, they are fearless, and they speak up. We need to make sure these girls are supported to become anything they want during COVID-19 and always.
UNICEF calls on governments and policymakers to:
- Acknowledge the increased vulnerability of adolescent girls to harmful practices due to COVID-19 and consider girls in both response and ‘building back better’ plans, including ensuring girls’ access to quality education and to legal, justice and health services, including sexual and reproductive health and social protection
- Pay attention to especially vulnerable adolescent girls, such as those already married, widowed or divorced, adolescent mothers, and girls who have undergone female genital mutilation
- Ensure girls’ needs and vulnerabilities are captured in data- and evidence-generation during and after the pandemic
- Ensure adolescent girls’ voices are heard, through platforms to express themselves and consider their thoughts and ideas in policies and programmes that affect their lives.
“Helping my parents, my family and my society is the most beautiful thing in my life, and I feel extraordinary happiness when I am able to help others.” Fikoh, Indonesia
“The government must give young women the freedom to blossom within the society, respect girls, and register them in schools to build a better and more prosperous world.” Laetitia, Chad
Nankali Maksud is a Senior Advisor for the Harmful Practices team, Kristin Andersson is a Child Protection Officer, Yasmine Sinkhada is a Child Protection Consultant, and Nicholas Ledner is a Communication Officer, all at UNICEF HQ in New York City.