Left behind: adolescent girls and the Lake Chad Basin crisis
Adolescent girl, 14, Cameroon
As an organisation working on the front line of the Lake Chad Basin conflict, we know as well as anyone that the voices of adolescent girls are rarely heard when decisions about the crisis are made.
Yet our research shows that it is adolescent girls who often suffer the most from the conflict and instability it brings.
Today, key actors will meet in Berlin, Germany, for a two-day, high-level conference to discuss the ongoing regional crisis.
The meeting is a rare opportunity to put the politics of the conflict aside and address the urgent needs of the 11 million people who now rely on humanitarian assistance to survive – including the adolescent girls whose needs are so often overlooked.
Some progress has been made since a similar meeting that was held last year, but this progress is at risk if those leading the discussions don’t listen to the voices of those most affected.
Our latest report, Adolescent Girls in Crisis: Voices from the Lake Chad Basin, offers decision makers a chance to hear directly from adolescent girls in the region. We urge them to listen and to act.
What are we asking for at the conference?
We’re calling on all those gathered in Berlin to make the protection of people affected by the crisis their number one priority.
Within this, we’re calling on leaders to recognise the unique needs of adolescent girls as they allocate funds and devise policies and programmes.
Specifically, we want to see them take action to:
- Protect: improve security conditions for all adolescent girls and work with families and communities to tackle the underlying discrimination that leads to violence against adolescent girls.
- Include: promote and fund efforts that encourage adolescent girls to take part in all decisions that affect them, ensuring their needs and basic human rights are met.
- Educate: encourage families to keep girls in school and provide vocational and skills training.
- Provide: promote measures to ease the economic crisis and improve access to food and water.
- Inform: make sure that girls have access to appropriate health care and in particular have the knowledge about sexual and reproductive health and rights that they need to keep safe and protect their futures.
Why is there a need to specifically target adolescent girls?
Adolescent girls are being affected by the Lake Chad crisis in ways that are different both from adolescent boys and from adult women. due to the double discrimination of their age and gender.
Their protection and assistance needs are falling through gaps in humanitarian response programming – they are often counted among children, youth or women, resulting in their specific needs being neglected.
The voices of adolescent girls are not being heard. They are rarely consulted by the humanitarian community or other actors and are excluded from decision-making at all levels.
What did girls tell us in the report?
The report details a myriad of intersecting challenges, but some of the most common were that:
1. They feel unsafe and face physical and sexual violence.
Almost a quarter of those interviewed said they’d been hit in the last month. Across all the research sites, girls reported being afraid and said that physical and sexual violence impacts almost every aspect of their lives.
Adolescent girl, 13, Nigeria
2. They lack food and water and are sleeping hungry.
62% of the girls we spoke to reported going to bed hungry in the last month. The ongoing violence has destroyed access to farming – both as an income generation activity and for subsistence purposes. Unsafe, long distance journeys to collect water put girls at further risk of harassment and physical violence.
Adolescent girl, 18, Nigeria
3. A lack of sexual and reproductive health services is a direct threat to girls’ security.
At 773 maternal deaths per 100,000, the Lake Chad Basin has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world. Despite this, there are significant barriers to accessing contraception and sexual health services.
Adolescent girl, 16, Nigeria
4. Their education is being disrupted, particularly at secondary level.
Adolescent girls are facing a myriad of threats to their education. The burden of household chores and the cost of school are the biggest barriers. Security conditions, the distance needed to travel to school, and the threat of direct attacks on schools are also serious challenges, along with poverty, displacement and child marriage.
Female parent, Nigeria
Progress, yes, but not enough
While reasonable progress was made last year to ramp up humanitarian action in the region, the needs across the Lake Chad Basin are unimaginable.
We urge all humanitarian actors, including donors, to urgently listen to the many girls we have spoken to in developing this report.
To ensure a peaceful, prosperous and secure Lake Chad Basin, politicians and policy makers must respond to their needs for protection, education, inclusion, information and economic security.
Today's conference in Berlin is the perfect time to hear those calls and act.
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