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A different kind of crisis

A different kind of crisis?

The seismic political events of the last few weeks have caused unprecedented scenes in Parliament. To be honest, it’s sometimes hard to find anyone in Westminster not talking about Brexit.

But despite this, crises of a different kind have been on the Parliamentary agenda. Peers in the House of Lords made time to debate the support that the UK Government gives to adolescent girls living in fragile, conflict and crisis affected areas such as South Sudan, Yemen, the Rohingya refugee camps and Syria, to name just a few.

Plan International UK’s Girls in Crises report series found that adolescent girls face specific challenges, forms of abuse and vulnerabilities. These are different from those of women, boys and men.

Whilst crises have devastating consequences for whole communities, adolescent girls face double jeopardy because of their gender and age. Often, they are unable to access high quality education due to a lack of provision or fears for their own personal safety. They also face an increase in sexual violence and harassment, and decreased access to their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Conflict in Nigeria has displaced 1.7 million people
Conflict in Nigeria has displaced 1.7 million people

Shockingly, in South Sudan a girl is more likely to die in childbirth than to complete secondary school. During our Girls in Crises research, 75% of the girls we spoke to stated that the conflict has had a negative effect on their state of mind. 26% had thought at least once about ending their own life in the last 12 months.

During the debate, Peers highlighted the specific needs of adolescent girls. Baroness Hodgson, who called the debate, said that “for girls in fragile and conflict-affected countries the combination of adolescence and conflict exposes them to maximum danger, and what happens to them in adolescence will have a profound effect on them for the rest of their lives”.

Peers from all political stripes called on the government to undertake humanitarian interventions that target the specific needs of adolescent girls. These kinds of interventions would advance their rights now and act as an investment in a country’s future. Baroness Goudie put it this way:

When girls receive education and are included in political and economic systems, communities are empowered, and they are better off.

Lord McConnell highlighted that prioritising the needs of girls is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: “If the global goals are driven by the objective of leaving no one behind, surely, as we look around the world, one of the groups most likely to be left behind are adolescent girls in fragile and conflict-affected states. They are more likely to be raped. They are more likely to be forced into child marriage. They are more likely to suffer from FGM – still. They are more likely to miss out on education”

Adolescent Rohingya girls in refugee camp, Bangladesh
Adolescent Rohingya girls in refugee camp, Bangladesh

In light of this, Plan International UK is continuing to call on the UK Government to ensure that UK funded humanitarian interventions meet the specific needs of adolescent girls, and tackle the barriers such as food shortages and harmful gender norms that are keeping adolescent girls out of high-quality education.

In this time of uncertainty where questions are being asked about the future of ‘global Britain’, the government must continue its role as a global leader on ending gender inequality including prioritising adolescent girls. We mustn’t let these critical issues fall off the agenda – even in these uncharted political waters.

Read the Girls in Crises reports