To find out what ‘better’ looks like we must listen to those most affected

By Ema Jackson Global Campaigns Manager Plan International UK

As past crises show, whilst disasters affect everyone, inequality is exacerbated. Girls are among the worst affected in any crisis, particularly in the long term. They are exposed to specific risks due to their age and gender – their voices often the least heard, and their rights and needs left unmet. This global pandemic gives us the chance to set a new course for these girls and we must take it. But we cannot ‘Build Back Better’ without ensuring to #ListenToGirls.

Plan International UK is responding to the global coronavirus crisis in over 50 countries; from delivering hygiene kits and life-saving public health information to vulnerable families and communities around the world, to ensuring children can continue their education when schools are closed.

While the coronavirus crisis is having a devastating impact right across the world, for the millions already living through conflict, displacement or natural disaster – it has meant a crisis on top of a crisis.

Already struggling crisis-hit communities are now faced with life-threatening additional challenges: a reduction in food provisions, cramped conditions making social distancing impossible and a lack of access to basic supplies such as soap.

And as past crises show, whilst disasters affect everyone, inequality is exacerbated. Girls are among the worst affected in any crisis, particularly in the long term. They are exposed to specific risks due to their age and gender – their voices often the least heard, and their rights and needs left unmet. With increased gender-based violence, unpaid care burdens, and sexual exploitation, this pandemic has already had a devastating impact on the lives of girls living in crisis-affected areas.

This global pandemic gives us the chance to set a new course for these girls and we must take it. But we cannot ‘Build Back Better’ without ensuring to #ListenToGirls.

These girls are the experts in their own lives. They know what needs to change and what needs to be ‘built better’ – it is crucial that we centre their voices in the response effort.

At Plan International UK we believe that having youth voices, especially those of girls, at heart of what we do is vital. That’s why, earlier this year, we partnered with girls and young women living through crises – Congolese refugees in Rwanda, South Sudanese refugees in Northern Uganda and girls living in conflict-affected North East Nigeria – to co-create Our Vision: A Call to Action by Girls in Crisis’  This inspirational action plan for change, was developed with young people through youth-led participatory research, and outlines their eight demands for a better future:

  1. We want gender equality
  2. We want better support and services for unaccompanied minors
  3. We want access to a safe and quality education
  4. We want to be safe from gender-based violence
  5. We want good health and wellbeing
  6. We want control of our bodies
  7. We want fair and decent work
  8. We want to be involved in creating peaceful and sustainable futures

This process took place before the coronavirus crisis swept the globe, making life even more challenging. We re-engaged the girls and young women involved in the consultation to hear about how their lives had been further impacted by this global health crisis. With food insecurity prevalent, increasing rate of child marriage and teenage pregnancy and a lack of access to period products and contraceptives, the results were sobering. You can read the full report here. It is clear this courageous Call to Action is more urgent than ever before.

In order to ‘Build Back Better’ it is essential that the private sector, alongside governments, international organisations and civil society, listen to girls’ experience, and endorse their Call to Action. We cannot go back to the way things were before – it wasn’t working for girls. And the only way to fix it is to #ListenToGirls.

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