COVID-19 Response: Give for Girls

by Plan International USA
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COVID-19 Response: Give for Girls
COVID-19 Response: Give for Girls
COVID-19 Response: Give for Girls
COVID-19 Response: Give for Girls
COVID-19 Response: Give for Girls
COVID-19 Response: Give for Girls
COVID-19 Response: Give for Girls
COVID-19 Response: Give for Girls
COVID-19 Response: Give for Girls

We live in a time when information about nearly everything is at our fingertips. Want to learn how to build a computer or start your own business? Maybe you’re interested in recent legislation the government passed, or how to get help for anxiety. All of the answers are just a few clicks away.

At least, we think it’s that easy.

Despite (or, perhaps, because of) the abundance of YouTube videos, Instagram posts and search results on every topic one could think of, the chances of coming across false information on any search is almost guaranteed. For girls online, this is having a devastating impact.

Every day, girls are bombarded with lies, stereotypes and heavily edited photos dictating to them how they should feel, look and behave. They’re lied to about the severity of COVID-19 and how to protect themselves. They’re deceived by politicians, pundits and online personalities about how the government is or isn’t helping them. And, as we’ve seen time and time again, girls and young women are misled about what they can and can’t do with their own bodies.

Over the past year, Plan International spoke to 26,000 girls and young women across 33 countries and found an alarming trend.

Young people were already spending a significant amount of their time online before the COVID-19 pandemic began, but more than half of girls and young women in the report say they now spend seven or more hours per day online.

For many, it has helped them engage with like-minded individuals on important topics, but for others, it has only led to frustration and confusion to the point where some have disengaged completely from politics and activism in their communities.

Overwhelmingly, girls and young women identified seeing misinformation and disinformation on social media and video sharing platforms. Left unchecked, these sites actively harm young people, and the companies who run them have known it all along - just look at Facebook. With millions of users posting to these sites every day, it can be hard to figure out what’s true and what’s not all on our own.

“You have to read so many articles and … that’s when you get to understand the information much better. And then there are also people who share the information so that they can mislead others. And then there are other people who share the information so that you can have a better view on something. So, I think it’s not easy. It takes a lot of reading and passion.” Mia, 20, Kenya

With support from donors like you, girls around the world are calling on their governments to study rampant mis/disinformation and online violence, and its impacts. Thank you for investing in the power of girls.

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India is coping with multiple crises right now.

A devastating second COVID-19 wave has overwhelmed the health care system. This latest variant is not only highly transmissible, it’s also infecting young people more severely.

The daily death toll in India reached a world record high of 6,000 on June 10.

And while the number of new cases is declining, a third wave could hit the country later this year. There is concern that future variants will affect more children. Vaccination distribution has picked up after a slow start, but it’s unlikely the majority of the population will be vaccinated in time.

Then, in May, two cyclones struck just days apart, washing away homes and flooding communities. More than a million people were displaced, many forced to seek refuge in camps and shelters.

And now, there’s another disease outbreak in India — black fungus.

What is black fungus?

Mucormycosis, commonly known as “black fungus,” is a rare and deadly fungal infection that blocks blood flow, killing infected tissue and turning dead skin black. It spreads rapidly from the nose and sinuses to the jaw, eyes and brain. In some cases, the infection attacks the lungs.

Symptoms include black patches of skin, blurred vision, headaches, breathing difficulties and coughing up blood. Without immediate treatment, it can be fatal, with a high mortality rate of over 50%. Once the infection reaches the brain, the mortality rate spikes to over 80%.

Black fungus spreads through fungal spores in the air. Potential sources of infection in hospitals include linens, ventilation systems, adhesive bandages and contaminated oxygen equipment. It can also enter the skin through a cut, scrape or burn.

What’s the connection between COVID-19 and black fungus?

With over 31,000 cases and more than 2,000 deaths reported so far, India is currently experiencing a black fungus epidemic. The vast majority of patients recently recovered from COVID-19, and many are also diabetic.

The steroids used to treat COVID-19 weaken the immune system and increase sugar levels, making diabetics more susceptible to infections, particularly in poorly controlled cases. It’s estimated that more than half of diabetics in India are undiagnosed. Even before the pandemic, India’s black fungus rates were 70 times higher than the rest of the world.

The pandemic has left hospitals overrun and oxygen supplies running out, which means that some hospitals were using older, outdated oxygen equipment to treat COVID-19 patients. It’s believed this may have been another source of infection.

How is black fungus diagnosed and treated?

There are no blood tests to detect black fungus — diagnosis requires a biopsy, often followed by a CT scan, which many do not have access to or can’t afford.

The only effective treatment is an antifungal drug, combined with the removal of dead tissue. But the medication is expensive, and India is currently facing a shortage.

In extreme cases, an eye or part of the jaw must be surgically removed to prevent the infection from spreading.

Is this epidemic affecting children too?

Yes. While most infected patients have been adults, there are several alarming pediatric cases, ranging in age from 1 to 15. Two older children — a 14-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy — each had an eye surgically removed to prevent the infection from spreading to their brain. Both children have acute juvenile diabetes and were recovering from COVID-19.  

The pandemic has already left thousands of orphans in its wake. Now, parents who survived the virus are losing their lives to this deadly infection. On top of the trauma and grief, orphans are extremely vulnerable to neglect, exploitation and trafficking.

The economic impacts of COVID-19 have been devastating. Every day it’s pushing more families into poverty, a key driver of child marriage. India already has the most child brides in the world (about one-third of the global total). Now many more are at risk. The longer COVID-19 and black fungus plagues India, the more children will suffer. And millions of girls' futures will be in jeopardy. 

Will you help India survive these terrifying nightmares?

Children and families in India urgently need support now. Your lifesaving gift will help to deliver PPE and oxygen concentrators, distribute food and raise awareness of the vaccine, which is the best hope of preventing a third wave. You can be there for vulnerable children and families in India, and help to ensure that no girls are left behind.

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COVID-19 isn't the only threat girls are dealing with right now.

There's another silent, lethal pandemic lurking in the shadows — threatening their dreams, their futures and even their lives. 

It’s the spike in gender-based violence and other harmful practices, like child marriage and trafficking. Decades of progress for girls' equality is at risk.

The economic impacts of COVID-19 are expected to be widespread and devastating, particularly for women and girls. When families are struggling to survive, girls are more likely to be forced to drop out of school, marry at a young age or become victims of human trafficking. And the longer a girl is out of school, the less likely it is that she will return.

Childbirth is the leading cause of death among 15-19-year-old girls worldwide. Increased marriage and pregnancy rates, combined with overburdened health systems, means more girls' lives are on the line.

Gender disparities are greatest in countries dealing with extreme poverty, economic vulnerability and unrest. One of the newest and poorest countries in the world, South Sudan's short history has been plagued by war, floods and food insecurity. Nearly 1.5 million people have been internally displaced, fleeing their homes to escape the violence.

Life was difficult enough for forcibly displaced populations before COVID-19. Now, it's much harder. In overcrowded areas, social distancing is nearly impossible. And access to clean water, soap, sanitation facilities and basic health services is limited.

School closures are even more devastating for refugee and displaced girls, who are already at a disadvantage. But that doesn't mean they're giving up.

Here, three brave young women in South Sudan open up about their struggles, sharing what — and who — inspires them to keep fighting for the future they deserve.

Rachel, 20

“When schools were told to close to prevent the spread of COVID-19, my family stood with me in all that I did. I knew how boring it would be without being busy with school, so I resorted to studying all sorts of books I could find. 

I also started selling small items including charcoal to make some money for my upkeep. This kept me busy and it helped me cope with the impact of the closure of schools. Above all, it helped me stay focused on the bigger things that made sense to me as the girl that I am.

I am a girl of my own principles and have never found pleasure in thinking about pressures from boys. I am glad that the government has decided to let us go back to school.”

Monica, 16

I was depressed for two months following the closure of schools. I did not know what my future would look like. Hours took a long time to pass. Some days, it felt as though darkness would never come and the nights became longer.

I decided to ask my aunt for guidance. She was very supportive and took me through her life story and how she ended up where she is now. I found so much inspiration from her struggles, even though she did not go far with education. I realized that this pandemic is a temporary obstacle which will go someday.

My peers were getting married or falling pregnant and not a month would pass without me hearing this. I stayed strong and resisted all temptations by listening to my aunt and keeping busy with housework and joining my aunt in farming. We spent the day weeding and sometimes gathering crops.

Today, I am back in school. I feel so happy and as if I have pushed a great burden off my back, although I still have three more months before I can take my final exams.”

Ayen, 21

“If I survive the COVID-19 pandemic without falling pregnant or losing hope, it is due to two things: first of all, I am a leader in my school. And secondly, I’m a member of Plan International’s Champions of Change project. So if I need to do anything, I make sure to recall that first.

To me, marriage or settling down with a man is not even in my near thoughts, let alone at this time. I have seen the kind of suffering people go through nowadays. My friends who dropped out of school to get married are finding it difficult to even find anything to eat.

So, really, I feel determined to achieve better things to enable myself to get through the hardship. I am strong and urge every other girl to forget about everything else and concentrate on their books.”

The fight for gender equality cannot take a backseat now.

The inequalities of the most vulnerable are only heightened during emergencies. As the world copes with the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of girls are dealing with a second shadow pandemic. Too many are struggling in silence, alone and invisible.

The determination of young women like Rachel, Monica and Ayen is as inspiring as their circumstances are heartbreaking.  Now, more than ever, we must continue our critical work to advance girls’ rights. The only way forward is together — with no girl left behind.

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This is Khadyja’s story.

Khadyja is 23 years old and lives in a suburb of Dakar, Senegal. 

Her community is on lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stuck at home, Khadyja decided to log on to Plan International’s Girls Out Loud online forum, which provides a safe virtual space for girls and young women to discuss the challenges they’re facing.

The topic on everybody’s mind: COVID-19.

Girls and young women are always disproportionately impacted by health emergencies. That fact quickly became clear to Khadyja. She also realized that there was a serious lack of awareness on how to prevent the spread of disease. Many of her own neighbors even denied the existence of COVID-19 and weren’t taking proper precautions. If things didn’t change, and the number of cases continued to rise, what would happen to girls like her?

Khadyja decided something had to be done. And she wasn’t going to wait for anyone else to do it.

That’s the day she became an activist.

Khadyja started dedicating her time to raising awareness about COVID-19 on social media. Through images and videos, Khadyja is explaining the essential protection measures needed to keep everybody safe and healthy.

“My main weapons: my smartphone and my voice,” Khadyja says. “It is important for me that my voice and actions encourage people to implement individual and collective prevention measures."

Khadyja is also advocating for the importance of protecting girls from all forms of violence during the pandemic. “Girls should not be impacted by the health situation we are experiencing in Senegal. We can help our communities stop the spread of this virus! We can do it! We have the tools! We have the will!"

Khadyja’s passionate activism has made her a respected voice in her community. And now the powers that be are listening, too. She was invited by her district administration to join a COVID-19 action committee so that youth voices are represented and girls’ needs are prioritized.

Khadyja is an example of what happens when a girl is armed with education, confidence and a platform to use her voice. She’s powerful, and she’s lifting up those around her.

It’s important to remember that while millions of girls are facing unfair challenges and inequality, and in some places, suffering unbearable injustices, that’s not their whole story. Girls are not just victims. They’re fighters, changemakers, activists and leaders.

There are girls like Khadyja all over the world — maybe even in your own community. It’s time we all look for them, listen to them and amplify their voices. Because when they are heard, they can move mountains.

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Plan International USA

Location: Warwick, RI - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @PlanUSA
Project Leader:
Victoria Barrios
Warwick, RI United States
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