World Refugee Day: girls tell us their vision for the future

150 girls caught up in humanitarian crises around the world reveal what change they want to see

The coronavirus crisis is having a devastating impact across the world, but for the millions already living in refugee camps or conflict affected areas, it has meant a crisis on top of a crisis. Refugee girls are among the worst affected in any crisis – their voices often the least heard, and their rights and needs left unmet.

Saturday June 20 is World Refugee Day, and an opportunity for increased awareness on girls living in Rwanda, Uganda and Nigeria. Plan International, a non-profit organisation that works with children in the world’s poorest countries to build a better future, asked 150 girls caught up in humanitarian crises around the world what change they want to see in the future.

The coronavirus crisis has made this more urgent than ever. For girls in Jordan, Lebanon, Uganda and Nigeria, the global pandemic has been a crisis on top of a crisis, as in refugee camps the pandemic has led to reduced food provisions, cramped conditions making social distancing impossible and a lack of access to basic supplies such as soap.

And with increases in gender-based violence, unpaid care burdens, and sexual exploitation – we know girls are bearing a significant brunt of this disaster. We must ensure that girls are not forgotten in the response – especially girls living through crises. Now is the time for organisations, governments, donors and young people to work together to ensure girls’ demands are heard and become a reality.

To help address this crisis , earlier this year Plan International partnered with over 150 young people to create Our Vision: A Call to Action by Girls in Crisis – an eight-point action plan for change. The idea? For We world leaders to #ListenToGirls. Marie Claire stands in solidarity with refugees and other forcibly displaced people around the world and fully support this campaign.

Here are the 8 things refugee girls want to see from the world’s leaders:

1. ‘We want gender equality’ 

Conflict and humanitarian crises often exacerbate gender inequality and discrimination. This can manifest in greater control and restrictions being placed on girls and increased domestic and care burdens.The pandemic has added to the inequalities that girls face due to their gender – around access to education and health care, particularly menstrual hygiene management, as well as household duties and livelihoods.

 2. ‘We want better support and services for unaccompanied minors’ 

Girls described how displacement and crisis leads to serious challenges and risks for unaccompanied and separated girls who lack the immediate protection provided by parents, families and/or primary caregivers. Girls reflected that they are often forced into marriage as the only route to have any financial support. Child marriage often brings an end to their education and limits the opportunities available to them.

refugee girls

Dianah is a 21 year old refugee in Uganda, hoping for change (image courtesy of Plan International / Quinn Neely)

3. ‘We want access to a safe and quality education’

Education is a basic human right. But conflict and disasters have a devastating impact on girls’ ability to go to school. The lack of provision of basic school services, particularly secondary school, disproportionally affects girls.

4. ‘We want to be safe from gender-based violence’

Conflict, crisis and displacement leaves girls at a heightened risk of gender-based violence. The risk of human trafficking and sexual exploitation was highlighted as a major concern among girls. Poverty and a lack of access to livelihood opportunities left girls at an acute risk of being forced into sexual exploitation and transactional sex to cover the cost of basic services including school fees and health supplies such as period products.

5. ‘We want good health and wellbeing’ 

Humanitarian crises often affect the availability of food and clean water and severely limit access to adolescent-friendly healthcare and support services for survivors of violence, abuse and exploitation. This results in poor health outcomes and increased maternal and new-born deaths. Also, girls who have been through conflict, or survived trafficking and sexual slavery, still feel fear, have nightmares, and become withdrawn from their communities.

6. ‘We want control of our bodies’ 

Girls are often not given a voice in decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and are frequently denied access to good quality services and information. The girls spoke about feeling ill-equipped to protect themselves from the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

7. ‘We want fair and decent work’ 

Young women lack access to safe, fair and decent work. This limits their options and increases the risk of them being trafficked and forced into exploitative situations.

refugee girls

Time poverty due to chores, control and restrictions on movements means that girls feel they are frequently unable to access fair and decent work (image courtesy of Plan International/ Rob Beechey)

8. ‘We want to be involved in creating peaceful and sustainable futures’

Girls know what needs to change. They are the experts in their own lives. They want to be involved in creating peaceful and sustainable futures. All girls spoke to Plan International about their hope to live safe and peaceful futures free of insecurity and violence. They felt strongly that they had valuable knowledge that could be offered to their communities and that their voices should be heard.

For more information on how to support girls on World Refugee Day and beyond, see plan-uk.org

 

 

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