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Why gender equality matters during a crisis like COVID-19

The importance of gender equality during crisis cannot be overstated as the impact of crisis is never gender neutral.

In the wake of COVID-19, the world has faced a global emergency not seen in a century. All of us have felt the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic from stress to economic insecurity to illness and personal loss.

With vaccine rollouts happening across the world, there is a new sense of optimism – a feeling that this will all be behind us soon. However, the reality is that COVID-19 has setback progress for millions of girls around the world. These setbacks are just beginning and will be felt for many years to come.

How has COVID-19 set back progress for gender equality?

Before the onset of COVID-19, slow but significant progress was being made towards achieving gender equality.

In fact, data revealed that more girls were exercising their rights to education, healthcare, clean water, sanitation and economic livelihood. Less girls were forced into child marriages, fewer were undergoing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and we saw a decrease in maternal deaths for girls aged 15-19.

Today, all the progress made for girls’ rights is being undone. We are now faced with the reality that with each passing minute, more girls are facing dire consequences as a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis.

In the next minute alone:

  • 24 girls will have unintended pregnancies due to loss of access to contraception.
  • 20 girls will be forced to drop out or not have access to school.
  • 7 girls will go through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
  • 1 girl will die from pregnancy and childbirth complications.
picture of Briseida beside her quote: it hurts me to drop out of school, because I want to continue studying. I don’t know where, but I want to study, I want a better future for myself.
It hurts me to drop out of school, because I want to continue studying. I don't know where, but I want to study, I want a better future for myself.
Briseida, Guatemela

Why is time running out for girls in crisis?

The longer girls are without support during this crisis, the worse the situation gets. We must stop the clock and stop the setbacks girls are experiencing in the following areas:

Child marriage

Economic instability can threaten girls’ ability to make decisions about their own lives and many girls will be forced to marry because their families are making tough choices due to the impact of the pandemic. Between 2020 and 2030 an estimated additional 13 million child marriages could take place due to COVID-19.

Gender-based violence

Stress, restricted movement and social isolation has increased the risk of gender-based violence and FGM for vulnerable girls. Work to prevent this abuse is being disrupted as the pandemic continues. Because of COVID-19, it is estimated that 4.1 million girls will likely undergo FGM in 2020.

Access to education

The coronavirus pandemic has shut down schools worldwide. Schools keep girls safe from gender-based violence, unplanned pregnancy, trafficking, exploitation and recruitment into armed groups. 11.2 million girls and young women may drop out or not have access to school in 2021.

Restricted healthcare

Limited access to contraception, health facilities and maternal care – in combination with increased sexual violence – will result in more teenage pregnancies. Since pregnancy complications kill more adolescent girls than any other cause, this is a matter of life or death. Due to COVID-19, More than 47 million women could lose access to contraception leading to 7 million unintended pregnancies.

Child marriage

Economic instability can threaten girls’ ability to make decisions about their own lives and many girls will be forced to marry because their families are making tough choices due to the impact of the pandemic. Between 2020 and 2030 an estimated additional 13 million child marriages could take place due to COVID-19.

Gender-based violence

Stress, restricted movement and social isolation has increased the risk of gender-based violence and FGM for vulnerable girls. Work to prevent this abuse is being disrupted as the pandemic continues. Because of COVID-19, it is estimated that 4.1 million girls will likely undergo FGM in 2020.

Access to education

The coronavirus pandemic has shut down schools worldwide. Schools keep girls safe from gender-based violence, unplanned pregnancy, trafficking, exploitation and recruitment into armed groups. 11.2 million girls and young women may drop out or not have access to school in 2021.

Restricted healthcare

Limited access to contraception, health facilities and maternal care – in combination with increased sexual violence – will result in more teenage pregnancies. Since pregnancy complications kill more adolescent girls than any other cause, this is a matter of life or death. Due to COVID-19, More than 47 million women could lose access to contraception leading to 7 million unintended pregnancies.

how are we stopping the setback for girls?

The fragile gains the world had made towards achieving gender equality, especially equality for girls, are being unraveled as you read this. When girls are held back from growing to their full potential, we all lose. During a crisis, it is vital that we continue to invest in advancing gender equality because women and girls are most impacted.

Our COVID-19 response is stopping the setback on girls’ rights by including their unique needs and amplifying their voices.

Child protection

Crisis first responders receive child protection training

In order protect girls in crisis, Plan International is promoting action against gender based violence (GBV), distributing information on GBV and how to get support alongside COVID-19 materials, and training front line responders on how to ensure children’s, particularly girls’ safety from violence, sexual exploitation, abuse, separation and distress.

Education

Young student listens to school lectures at home from solar-powered radio

How are we helping girls learn during a crisis? In a crisis, girls are 2.5 times more likely than boys to be out of school and less likely to return once schools reopen. We are helping girls learn during the pandemic through the distribution of menstrual supplies, learning kits, solar-powered radios, tablets and where possible financial support so that families can afford their girl’s education.

Sexual & reproductive rights

Three girls holding a sign: our bodies, our lives, our rights

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, complications during pregnancy and childbirth were the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19. Gender inequality keeps adolescent girls from accessing lifesaving sexual and reproductive health care, education and services. But our health projects have adapted to ensure the continuity of this important work.

Economic Empowerment

young woman works a sewing machine in a fabric shop

Plan International is providing economic relief through cash vouchers and one-time grants to households most impacted by the pandemic. We are also helping girls and women through income-generating activities and facilitating training to develop their employment and entrepreneurship skills.

Time is running out for girls in crisis but together, we can stop the clock on the unraveling of their rights.

picture of Caroline beside her quote: iWhen we are in school, we have our studies to focus on, but closure of school has left us with nothing to do. I think more girls will get pregnant during this period.
When we are in school, we have our studies to focus on, but closure of school has left us with nothing to do. I think more girls will get pregnant during this period.
Caroline, Malawi

Stories about the covid-19 crisis

Girl in mask working in classroom
Innovative ways to help girls learn

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve implemented 3 different approaches in communities around the world that have helped children, especially girls continue their education.

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Menstruation sign
Period poverty during a pandemic

Access to menstrual health education and supplies was holding girls back before the pandemic. Because of COVID-19, period poverty and its impacts have been exacerbated.

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Girls walking in FGM march
Fight to end FGM is not over

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a violation of girls’ rights and although there has been global progress to ban the practice, the pandemic has put millions more at risk.

Read More