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#IWD2021: Girls Leading Us Forward

Posted 08 March 2021 in EMpower News   |   Share

Today we mark and celebrate International Women’s Day. We recognize the ways in which women and girls around the world have borne undue and extra burdens over the last 12 months, and we also appreciate their unique capacity to drive change. This year’s theme for the United Nations global day, “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World,” rightly underscores the vital role women and girls should play in responding to and recovering from the pandemic and in creating a more equitable world.

We have heard from the media, governments, health professionals, parents, and educators about COVID-19’s impact on girls—how it has threatened their health and physical safety, made it less likely that they will stay or return to school and diminished their economic prospects. However, rarely have we heard directly from the girls themselves. If we are to serve those at the margins, we should be speaking to them about what they face and need. Conversations about how best to help girls and young women must start with girls at the center.

Recognizing this knowledge gap, EMpower, with support from the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), launched the In HER Voice project to assess young girls’ lived experience in urban India during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. As part of the initiative, we virtually trained 25 girls (ages 13-24) at the EMpower Leaders Lab, to deepen their understanding of the project and to develop their capacity to conduct participatory research within their own communities. After the training, the girl leaders went out (taking COVID-19 precautions) and interviewed more than 150 other girls (ages 10-24) in their communities, in some of India’s largest cities. They set out to find: in light of COVID-19, what are the issues most important to girls now? They learned about the core challenges girls face and the limits they have in accessing services, support, and education. For example, 64% of girls and young women said that they do not have space or enough time to study online and 42% believed that the pressure to get married has increased because of COVID-19. But they also heard about opportunities and causes for optimism. Surprisingly, 82% of respondents reported being hopeful about their economic prospects.

In HER Voice was conducted by, with, and for girls. The project exemplifies EMpower’s approach of amplifying girls’ voices from beginning to end. This study presents a multifaceted and nuanced picture of how unprecedented, pandemic-driven changes in India have affected girls, from wide-ranging feelings of concern and worry to resilience and strength. Importantly, the girls themselves have analysed the data and provided advice about how we can strengthen programs and support services.

EMpower will release a report on March 25 (in English) and March 26 (in Hindi) with the complete findings from this groundbreaking research. We will also hear critical advice from girl leaders and their peers on what success looks like and how we can build back better. We know that girl-driven strategies have to be a part of any effective response to COVID-19, and their voices must be heard.

Watch this space – we will be sharing information about some webinars related to this research soon!

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