Sep 21, 2020

The voices of Cox's Bazar you need to hear

Nearly one million Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, are bracing for the deadly impact of COVID-19. Rumors are spreading and panic is growing. The refugee camp is locked down, and girls and young women are in danger.

Plan International’s local staff spoke to girls living in Cox’s Bazar to see how their lives have changed since the camp has been quarantined.

Meghla, 16, has seen how COVID-19 is destroying girls’ lives; violence and forced child marriage are becoming greater threats because of the pandemic.  “I heard about a child marriage recently,” she says. “I tried to stop it and informed local authorities. Unfortunately, they couldn’t respond in time due to lockdown.”

Girls are incredibly anxious about their futures, especially now that schools in the camp are closed. Another girl we spoke with, Rebeka, is spending her time doing chores and trying to teach herself at home. “I’m facing difficulties with my lessons without any guidance from my teachers,” she told us. “I heard that the government of Bangladesh is broadcasting distance learning lessons on TV, but most here aren’t aware of that.”

And menstrual hygiene is becoming almost impossible to manage. Many girls in Cox’s Bazar are using homemade sanitary pads during their periods — they are uncomfortable to wear and unhygienic. “We can’t go to the health center anymore to receive health services,” Rebeka says.

Unable to see healthcare providers, pregnant girls and young women are left with nowhere to turn. Rujina, 19, was married just a few months ago and is now pregnant with her first child. Her husband can no longer work, so they no longer have an income. Rujina needs nutritious food and regular checkups, but staying healthy has become almost impossible.

“This money will run out — I don’t know what we will do then,” she says. “The food will run out too. I’ve learned that pregnant women should lead a happy life and live in a friendly environment. But now I’m living in fear. When will I be able to get back to my normal life?”

Families in Cox’s Bazar don’t have immediate access to information about COVID-19. Distress is becoming widespread, and as a result, there’s been a negative impact on livelihood for everyone in the camp. Especially for girls and children.

But many of the girls in Cox’s Bazar are being protected by Beauty.

Beauty is one of Plan’s case management officers working with Rohingya refugee children in the camp. While everyone fears the devastating impact that COVID-19 could have in Cox’s Bazar, Beauty tries her best to sooth children’s worries. They, in return, promise that they will wash their hands regularly.

Plan staff has run COVID-19 information sessions; ensured water, hygiene and sanitation facilities are operational; distributed hygiene kits and continued child protection work. Staff wear personal protective equipment and undergo routine temperature checks to ensure the camp’s safety.

“My only thought is the wellbeing of the children and seeing the beautiful smiles on their faces,” Beauty says. But as the virus continues to spread, she still can’t help but worry. “If someone is infected, it will spread like wildfire before anyone realizes.”

Refugee girls in the camp were already living through an enormous humanitarian disaster. COVID-19 is amplifying the devastation. This is just the beginning, and the situation is likely to get much worse. Tomorrow is more uncertain than ever for girls in Cox’s Bazar.

But not all is lost. “I am not losing hope yet,” Meghla told us.

May 26, 2020

ADOLESCENT GIRLS IN CRISIS: COVID IN ZIMBABWE

As of April 26, Zimbabwe had 31 confirmed cases of COVID-19. And just like most of the world, the measures taken to stop the spread of the virus has had a significant impact on the country, including school closures and lock downs. We know that girls and women will suffer from secondary effects of the virus — increased gender-based violence, not returning to school, early and forced marriages, and the list of potential impacts goes on.

But what does everyday life look like for adolescent girls right now? We interviewed girls ages 13-18 via phone calls because we wanted to make sure our response was tailored to this age group, which is often forgotten as attention is focused on young children or women more broadly. The answers are far direr and heartbreaking than expected.

“I feel very very sad and worried because I am locked here in [name of town*]. My family is in Bulawayo town while I am here living in a small and crowded room,” said Precious* when she was asked what her biggest need is right now. “I have no pads, no food and no money [...] I failed to raise enough money to travel to Bulawayo when we were informed that schools were closing earlier by our School Head […] I don’t know where I am going to get the money for me to be able to travel to Bulawayo and am not sure if we will be allowed to travel any time soon. I am not able to communicate with my family and there are no buses.

“This is going to affect my results when I finally sit for the exams. I am not able to study because most of the time I will be busy begging for food, which most families are no longer able to give […] What can I do, I don’t have much and I have to survive.”

The response from Precious was echoed by classmates as girls are worried about meeting their basic needs — and although they are anxious and afraid, they very much want to continue learning. They are experiencing hunger, separation from family, a lack of hygiene products and other necessities, as well as extremely heightened anxiety.

Prior to the arrival of COVID-19, Plan International had begun to work with Precious and other adolescent girls to address root causes that prevent them from finishing secondary school. The girls challenged several aspects of traditional development design, which were collected into a previous blog post. In response, architectural and building plans were being put in place to build a dormitory, and programming to better support students was being developed. While these activities will resume once it is safe to do so, girls can’t wait that long.

Using interviews to better understand the immediate needs, funds are being repurposed for activities such as those listed below.

  • Provision of supplies to keep girls and their families safe: distribution of emergency kits including solar lamps, hand sanitizer, reusable masks and sanitary materials.
  • Provision of basic needs through cash transfers to girls to cover immediate food insecurity for the next three months.
  • Learning support to help keep girls on track through the distribution of materials, including one reading set per adolescent comprising math, integrated science, biology, chemistry, physics, geography and English.
  • Later the team will broaden learning though the development and distribution of virtual life skills lessons. 

Development practitioners know from past responses that crises hit the most vulnerable, including girls, the hardest. However, despite on-the-ground experiences, there is lack of data to detail the full impact on girls’ lives. As the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, the international development industry must make it a priority to include girls in response planning first and foremost to ensure that programs are addressing girls’ immediate needs and priorities, and secondly to ensure that accurate data, disaggregated by gender and age, is captured so that the development community can respond more quickly during the next crisis. Without taking these steps, past mistakes will be repeated and lessons for future crises will not be learned.

*Name removed for protection purposes.

*Name changed for protection purposes.

Jan 28, 2020

A CHAMPION YOU'VE CHANGED

There are women in Rosa’s community in Colombia who don’t take professional jobs because their husbands forbid it. These women are forced to believe that a woman’s purpose is to take care of the home, and a man’s purpose is to have a career. There is no agency — no choice in these roles. And there are girls and boys watching this who think that’s how things should be once they’re married too.

But because of you, Rosa knows there’s a change coming.

Rosa is a participant in Plan’s Champions of Change program, supported by people like you, which allows boys and girls to play soccer together and have open conversations about gender equality.

 

IN A SURVEY CONDUCTED BY PLAN, 44% OF YOUTH PARTICIPANTS BELIEVED BEING VIOLENT IS PART OF MEN'S NATURE. BUT CHAMPIONS OF CHANGE IS ALLOWING YOUNG PEOPLE TO WORK TOGETHER AND FIND SOLUTIONS THAT TRANSFORM THEIR CULTURES.

Since Rosa has been in the program, she’s seeing male and female relationships much differently.

“The boys used to be chauvinistic, but now they’re treating us differently,” she says. “Girls are becoming more confident and powerful. I’ve learned to take control of my life, and help others who might still not know how to do that.”

Rosa says many girls in her community, including some of her friends, think it’s desirable to become a mother at a young age. “If they have a boyfriend, they think the best way to keep their boyfriend is to have children with him.” But with Champions of Change, more girls are realizing that this isn’t their only potential.

“We have our own thoughts and can do the same things that men do,” Rosa says. “We are not objects, we are human beings. We’re equal.”

In a community where girls are rarely asked what they think, you’re helping to ensure that Rosa is being listened to — by boys, men, and women alike. Because of that, she’s no longer fearful of her future. She’s hopeful.

“Girls are becoming a force, and we’re changing minds,” she says. And they have you to thank for giving them the wheel.

 
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