Lockdown lives: the impact of coronavirus on UK girls
As we went into lockdown, we knew there would be an impact on girls’ lives in the UK.
Our experience of working internationally already tells us that when a crisis hits, girls are often among the most affected – and the last to be heard.
At the beginning of this year, our State of Girls’ Rights in the UK report had shown clearly how far we still have to go to achieve girls’ rights in this country, with girls telling us they are still facing threats to their safety and sexism in school and are frustrated at not having their views heard.
Now, as the pandemic continues to unfold, our latest research reveals a bleak picture for girls living in lockdown in the UK.
We’re hearing the same challenges coming up again and again from girls across the country: worries about their education and their future, feeling unsafe in public and concerns about the impact of the crisis on their mental health.
1. ‘I’m feeling worried about the future’
- Indya, 17, Eastbourne
Our research found that 66% of girls say they are learning less during lockdown – and it can be an especially frightening time for girls already at a critical juncture in their school careers.
While we don’t yet know the longer-term impact this will have on girls and their education, we need to ensure that inequalities in the education system do not become further entrenched because of the coronavirus crisis.
2. 'I feel uncomfortable running on my own’
- Atlanta, 18, Manchester
Despite often only going out once a day, girls are still being cat-called and harassed on the streets, with one in five girls experiencing street harassment during lockdown. In fact, with public spaces even quieter now and fewer places to seek help if they’re harassed, many girls feel less safe in public than they did before the crisis.
3. ‘I know a lot of people who are struggling’
- Aless, 21, London
One of the most concerning findings from our research is that 40% of girls said their mental health had deteriorated since lockdown. The reasons for this included not being able to attend school, being without purpose and worries about the future.
Before coronavirus, girls were already telling us about the huge pressure they feel in all aspects of their lives, from academic achievements to worrying about having the perfect body. Now, they told us about the added pressure of making the most of lockdown: being seen to be productive, learn new things, and get the perfect figure during this time.
24% of girls felt the pressure from social media to do something useful with their time was affecting their mental health. And while we know social media can offer an opportunity to feel connected, it is not always a safe or happy place for girls. In fact, during the lockdown period alone, 25% of UK girls have experienced at least one form of abuse, bullying or sexual harassment online.
How are girls coping?
We all cope differently with upheaval, stress and anxiety. Many girls are finding their usual coping strategies have been upended by the lockdown and are trying to find what works for them.
- Clare, 19, Northern Ireland
Looking forward to life after lockdown
It’s vital that girls’ experiences of lockdown are heard and that this crisis does not have a detrimental impact on girls’ rights in the UK.
Already, the progress that has been made on period poverty and stigma in the last few years is under threat, with our research revealing that almost a third of girls have had issues either affording or accessing period products during this crisis.
If we’re to create a ‘new normal’ that works for UK girls, we must use this time to listen to their experiences and learn what needs to change for them to feel safe, better equipped and more enabled to fulfil their potential. What we cannot afford to do is forget about girls.
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