Halting lives:The impact of COVID-19 on girls and young women

Over the past months, as the world has sought desperately to deal both with the medical impacts of the virus and to prepare a response to its many secondary effects, research on COVID-19 has accelerated. However, there is limited research on the social impacts of COVID-19 and on the consequences for young people, especially those specific to girls. Adolescence, particularly mid to late adolescence (15-19 years), when numerous overlapping transitions can define the future, is a critical period for all young people. For girls and young women, in many countries across the world, it is a time when they are particularly at risk: decisions are often made for them that are detrimental to their future, and the expectations and opportunities, for girls, in all their diversity, diverge considerably from their male peers. In later adolescence decisions are being made for girls about their education, marriage and career paths. The burden of household responsibilities grows heavier and their freedoms may well be curtailed in line with gendered expectations about female behaviour and girls’ vulnerability to sexual violence. A global pandemic which pulls girls out of school and has a detrimental impact on family income can only make matters worse. The scale of this pandemic affects girls and young women in all aspects of their daily lives: their safety, wellbeing, education, economic security, health, nutrition and access to technology. All pre-existing inequalities are made worse by COVID-19. Its impact on girls and young women, who face unique vulnerabilities, needs to be acknowledged and it is their experiences and perspectives this research seeks to understand.