COVID-19 has exacerbated the issues girls around the world face: UNICEF
For this year’s International Day of the Girl, activists are focusing not only on how the pandemic has affected millions of girls worldwide, but also on how girls are standing up for themselves across the globe.
According to Patty Aleman, a senior advisor at UNICEF, the pandemic has only exacerbated the issues that thousands of girls face.
“Maybe four million more girls are at risk of getting married early, being child brides, because of COVID-19 around the world,” she told CTV News Channel.
“We’re seeing that there are gaps around the world when it comes to girls being more engaged in going back to school efforts. So those are some of the concerns that we’re really seeing, particularly with COVID-19 around the world.”
According to the UNICEF website, “measures meant to stem the spread of COVID-19 by restricting movement can escalate gender-based violence and limit girls’ access to quality education.”
The United Nations declared Oct. 11 as “International Day of the Girl” in 2011 after a call for a day to focus on the unique needs of girls.
“The government of Canada was instrumental in actually making the resolution at the United Nations to mark this day that we really look at the unique needs of girls, unique opportunities of girls around the world,” Aleman said.
But despite the struggles girls face, this year’s theme isn’t purely about their hardships, but “about raising the voices of girls,” she added.
“Their leadership, their needs and their solutions.”
Aleman said UNICEF had launched an interactive webpage that features five stories showing the positive impact girls can have in their communities.
“We went around the world, and in five countries, identified teen girl activists,” Aleman said.
The stories range from Somaya Faruqi, a 17-year-old from Afghanistan who designed a ventilator with her all-female robotics team, to Belen Perugachi, an Ecuadorian activist for Indigenous rights and the youngest council member in her municipality at 16 years old.
“[They] are taking videos, they are entrepreneurs, they are coming up with ventilators in this COVID-19 context, and they represent what girls are doing,” Aleman said.
Twenty-five years ago, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action — a global plan to advance the rights of women and girls — was adopted by the UN.
While much has changed since then, there are still struggles in the battle towards global equality. One in three women worldwide have experienced sexual or physical violence, according to the UN, and since the pandemic struck, these instances have gone up, particularly domestic violence.
It is in this context that Aleman and others pushing for change want to highlight the girls who are making a difference all on their own.
“I definitely want us to take a moment and appreciate that girls have many, many needs around the world, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated those, but also girls are leading,” Aleman said. “Girls are change makers and they’re shaking the world up. I would love us to give more attention to these girls and the big and small ways that they’re making change.
“And I would say just in our individual lives, let’s take a moment today and really acknowledge and give voice and encourage the girls in our lives to always be curious and to dream bold.”