A perception survey by Plan International Philippines reveals the impact of Covid-19 on Filipino girls and young women

FEATURED IMAGE copy WOMANMASK 1024x538 - Covid-19 is an even darker time for the girls and women

The impact of Covid-19 goes beyond healthcare. We are seeing a prevalent rise in the disruption and social inequalities that plague the education and work sectors. And a new study by humanitarian and girls’ rights organization Plan International Philippines reveals an even more inconvenient truth among the young girls and women bearing the brunt of the pandemic.

The perception study “Through Her Lens: The Impact of Covid-19 on Filipino Girls and Young Women” was conducted with 1,203 participants aged 13 to 24. The goal was to gain an insight into the systematic oppression and undervalued capabilities of the female population in the country in the
middle of a global crisis.

According to the survey, girls and young women have grown more insecure about factors concerning mental, sexual and reproductive health, education, job, and violence over the infection rate. 71 percent of participants cited learning losses and 49 percent are worried about not being able to go back to school. Others mentioned a breach of physical and economic capacity and social skills.

“The pandemic has caused great anxiety and stress on girls and young women. Beyond the risk of getting infected, they worry about their families, about not having money to buy food and other basic necessities, and that their education would have to stop,” says Ana Maria Locsin, Plan International Philippines country director. “If we do not address these issues, their ability to cope with and recover from the impact of this pandemic will be adversely affected.”

Findings also show that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused spiked cases in violence against women and girls (VAWG) both online and offline. Most of these are verbal, followed by emotional and physical violence, sexual harassment, and online sexual exploitation. Online cases include cyberbullying, trolls and fake news, sharing and/or posting indecent photos, videos, or messages, online sexual harassment, and messages of threats and violence.

Five percent of the participants witnessed domestic VAWG, while 17 percent witnessed cases outside their homes. A further 56 percent said that they have observed VAWG cases on social media or on television. 

While the pandemic has been causing a huge global, economic downturn, small-scale cases have perpetuated a cycle of abuse among marginalized women, especially in towns and barrios with low- and middle-income families. Participants said they suffer more from heightened tensions at these homes, which may result in domestic and gender-based violence.

“Special attention must be given to those who are most vulnerable to suffer from starvation brought by the suspension of work and have no source of income which they could buy food with in order to get through the day,” says Mau, 17.

‘Needs unmet, voices unheard’

The survey also reveals an underlying gap in social protection and relief assistance, that, although provides aid for the families, falls short on women’s special needs including sanitary pads, contraceptives, and access to reproductive health services for pregnant teenagers.

Participants also call the need for access to information about gender-based and domestic violence, grievance, and justice mechanisms for the victims, mental and emotional support including psychosocial and wellness programs, and access to a safe platform where they can report, speak up, volunteer, and contribute to decisions and solutions to fight Covid-19. When
given the platform and opportunities, they are capable of helping and improving our response efforts during a disaster.

“Girls like me should receive information not just about Covid-19, but also about issues that affect women and girls such as gender-based violence and gender equality to help other girls who are afraid to speak up,” says Raeven, 15.

“Girls can be effective and powerful leaders and communicators during a crisis when given support and the right platforms,” Locsin adds.

Such effects are echoed through the long-term battle of women against discrimination. The pandemic has magnified their situation, but society has been hampering great opportunities for women to take action out of social stigma for so long.

These girls and young women, however, are proposing recommendations to ensure their inclusion and participation not just in Covid-19, but in any disaster response. They believe that the government, private sector, and civil society should work together to:

  • Provide mental and emotional support, including psychosocial and wellness programs; 
  • Provide assistance and guidance for parents and guardians to support girls and young women who are studying from home; 
  • Ensure access to quality education by improving internet connection and signals in the localities and rural areas, and exploring other means of distance learning; 
  • Provide information about gender-based, domestic and online violence and access to safe reporting, grievance, and justice mechanisms for the victims; 
  • Provide access to birth control, contraceptives, and hygiene kits including sanitary pads, and other sexual and reproductive health services; 
  • Include guidance on where to access hygiene and sexual and reproductive health items and services, how to protect themselves from harassment and violence; and where to access psychosocial support services during the pandemic in the information dissemination and knowledge awareness drive;
  • Allocate and prioritize funding for the specific needs of girls and young women including psychosocial support and wellness program, hygiene kits and sexual and reproductive health services, and protection programs to prevent harassment and violence; and  
  • Provide access to a safe platform where girls and young women can report, speak up, volunteer, and contribute significant inputs to decisions and solutions in emergency and response plans, such as for COVID-19.

“We must recognize the needs, voice, and potential of every girl in disaster risk management, resilience, and response efforts,” Locsin says. “It is only through her lens that we can ensure an inclusive, equitable, and gender-transformative humanitarian response.”

www.plan-international.org/philippines

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