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New research shows barrier to girls rights exacerbated by coronavirus crisis

New research shows barrier to girls’ rights ‘exacerbated’ by coronavirus crisis

  • 40% of girls in the UK feel their mental health has worsened during the lockdown
  • Since lockdown started, almost a third (30%) of girls have had issues either affording or accessing period products
  • 1 in 10 (10%) of girls and young women have not been able to access their usual form of contraception
  • Since the lockdown, 1 in 5 (19%) of girls have experienced public sexual harassment

A new report by children’s charity Plan International UK has revealed the significant impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on girls in the UK and the long-term damage this could inflict on their rights.

A survey of more than 1,000 girls and young women aged 14-21, released today, exposes the challenges girls are facing in lockdown. Access to period products and contraception, the impact on their mental health and education, and fear for their safety in public are among the main issues they shared in the report.

Rose Caldwell, CEO at Plan International UK, said, “These stats should serve as a real eye-opener to the problems girls are facing up and down the country. Our 2020 ‘State of Girls' Rights in the UK’ report, published in January, provided a comprehensive assessment of the areas where more work is needed to ensure that every girl in this country can have her rights met.

“We are concerned that this pandemic could set us back still further. There is an urgent need for policy makers in the UK to ensure girls’ voices are heard throughout this crisis and afterwards, especially girls who are vulnerable and often the least heard."

Ms Caldwell added, “We mustn’t turn back the clock on girls’ rights.”

Period products

Girls under lockdown are struggling to access the products they need to successfully manage their period. Since lockdown started, almost a third (30%) of girls have had issues either affording or accessing period products.

Shockingly, over half (54%) of these girls have used toilet paper as an alternative to period products. But even that hasn’t always been an option during lockdown, as one in five girls (20%) said their periods have also been harder to manage due to the lack of toilet roll available.

Ms Caldwell said, “As we look to an uncertain future, many more families will face tough financial choices, and more young women than ever are likely to face issues affording the products they need.

"We must commit to ensuring they are supported with free access to products whether or not they are able to be in school, receive timely education on periods and feel able to talk about the issues they face without fear of shame or stigma.”

Mental health

One of the most concerning outcomes from the report is that 40% of girls said their mental health had deteriorated since lockdown. The reasons for them feeling worse include not being able to attend school (41%), feeling like they don’t have a purpose (43%) and worrying about not sitting exams (30%).

While it’s clear concerns over education are negatively affecting girls’ wellbeing, the survey also found the level of learning differs among girls, with the majority (66%) saying they are learning less during lockdown compared to when they were in school. Out of those who said they were learning less, 22% said it was because they were worrying about coronavirus.

Social media was also seen as a reason for the decline in mental health (37%). While social media can offer an opportunity to feel connected, it is not always a safe and happy place for girls. In fact, during the lockdown period alone, 1 in 4 girls (25%) have experienced at least one form of abuse, bullying or sexual harassment online.

Ms Caldwell said, “Plan International UK encourages girls who want a digital space to discuss their concerns to join its Girls Shout Out community on Instagram or Facebook, moderated by Plan International UK and supported by The Body Shop, where girls can share, discuss and find support for the issues that matter to them during lockdown and beyond.”

Street harassment

Girls are still being subjected to daily harassment in public despite the fact they are often only going out once a day under lockdown.

The survey found that over a quarter of girls (28%) feel less safe outside than before the pandemic, with one in five girls saying they had been harassed since lockdown started.

The reasons the girls gave for feeling more unsafe included: because there are fewer people around to help if something happened (52%), there are fewer places to go if they need to get away from someone (43%) and that the police were busy with other priorities due to the coronavirus crisis (31%).

Ms Caldwell said, “We cannot allow the lockdown to turn back the clock on girls’ rights: we need to send a clear message that street harassment is not okay, make sure girls can access the support they need and work with bystanders, including men and boys, to ensure they feel able to call out street harassment.”

Download the full report >

Notes to editors

The survey was conducted online by Opinium Research amongst a representative sample of 1,010 14-21-year-old girls in the UK from 9 April to 20 April 2020.