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New Plan International Survey shows girls feel high anxiety, miss being in school and feel isolated as a result of COVID-19

Toronto, Sept. 21, 2020 – According to research released today by Plan International Canada, the coronavirus pandemic is negatively affecting girls’ lives around the world. The report titled Halting Lives: The Impact of COVID-19 on Girls and Young Women, highlights the complex challenges girls are facing, ranging from the impact on their education, disproportionate burden of household work, to their ability to leave home and socialize. Plan International Canada is concerned about the mental health of girls and the looming setback to girls’ education. All of this coming during adolescence, a critical time in a girl’s life where key decisions about education, expansion in social and personal relationships including marriage and career paths are made.

Based on a survey of over 7,000 girls and young women aged 15-24 in 14 countries, social distancing measures have caused a major change in the lives of nearly half of girls surveyed. Six in 10 are struggling as a result of not being able to go to school, not being able to leave their house regularly and not being able to socialize with friends. Nine in 10 girls said they are feeling high or medium levels of anxiety as a result of the pandemic.

“COVID-19 is not just a health crisis – it impacts people in many aspects of their lives,” says Dr. Tanjina Mirza, Plan International Canada’s Chief Program Officer. “Plan International Canada is particularly concerned about the isolation and anxiety adolescent girls are feeling during a time in their lives when so many decisions and life transitions can impact their futures. Girls who are out of school are at particular risk.”

One of the greatest risks we see is the resurgence of harmful gender norms and stereotypes that are often at the heart of disadvantage faced by girls.

“My worry is how to prevent the coronavirus from affecting myself and my family,” says Emma, 14, from Ghana. “Also, because of this virus, I am in the house all day. I don’t like being here because I am the only one doing all the housework from morning to evening.”

When schools close, girls lose more than education, including school meal programs, as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights information, contraception and menstrual products. Out-of-school girls lose daily contact with friends, teachers and systems designed to protect them. Girls’ vulnerability to sexual violence and exploitation, pregnancy, child, early and forced marriage, harmful practices and child labour also grows when they are out of school and impacts the likelihood of them ever returning.

“I am thinking about dropping out of school,” says Deborah, 18, from Brazil. “Some of my friends have suggested websites to help with my studies, but I didn't see any results and I don't always have good access to the internet. The truth is that I'm also very discouraged. I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way.”

“In my family, we have always struggled financially, but the uncertainty with the coronavirus and its future effects on our income is making people desperate. If the older generation like my grandmother and my uncle had information about the positives of sending girls to school as opposed to just having them aspire to marriage, the pressure on me and other girls would stop,” said Angelina, 17, from Mozambique.

At the peak of school closures in April, over 90 per cent of students worldwide were affected, including 743 million girls. Over 100 million of those girls live in developing countries where accessing education was already difficult. Given the tenuous foothold many girls had on education in the first place, this pandemic could wipe out decades of progress and set back the future of an entire generation.

Plan International Canada is working with diverse women, girls and men and boys to stop this setback and directly supporting 20 million people – especially girls and young women – across more than 50 countries. To learn more and make a donation, donors in Canada are encouraged to visit plancanada.ca/stopthesetback.

About Plan International Canada

Plan International Canada is a global organization dedicated to advancing children’s rights and equality for girls. We have been building powerful partnerships for children for over 80 years and are now active in more than 70 countries.

Visit plancanada.ca for more information and follow @PlanCanada on social media to join the conversation.

For media inquiries please contact:

Mahmoud Shabeeb
Plan International Canada
+1 647-674-2456
Mshabeeb@plancanada.ca