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Preventing the Next Lost Generation

Posted 12 August 2021 in EMpower News   |   Share

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By Cynthia Steele, EMpower’s President and CEO

I feel depressed and helpless, not wanting to do anything. I am constantly worried and scared like never before.”

A girl in India recently made this comment to a peer researcher, but unfortunately, we have heard this sentiment expressed many times over by other young people around the world. While the coronavirus itself may have less direct health effects on young people than older populations, the ongoing global pandemic is likely to have long-lasting and profound impact on this generation. From school closings to a rise in domestic violence to a shrinking job market, COVID-19 is having—and will continue to have—devastating consequences for young people around the world. Recent articles about Latin America point to crushing poverty, greatly diminished economic opportunities, and a generation left behind.

EMpower conducted a global survey this spring of its grantee partners—the local organisations we support—and young people themselves. They shared how COVID-19 has affected their lives and their communities and what they most need now. Mental health care and support was the top cited need, followed by improved access to schools, including online learning (particularly for girls); income generation and vocational training; financial resources to cover basic necessities, such as food; and protective equipment to prevent COVID-19 infection. The crisis has exacerbated conditions in many places and set back much of the progress countries have made in recent decades including on gender and human rights. One of our grantee partners in Brazil summed up the current situation as they see it: “In terms of gender, girls were more stuck at home, doing more housework, taking care of boys, and more vulnerable to being abused at home and being more fragile about exposure on the internet. Society, in general, was affected, the poorer the community the worse; because the lack of access that was already low worsened.”

The ramifications of COVID-19 run deep, and communities are still struggling to respond. In this changing environment, young people want to participate and be heard. Those we surveyed not only shared their thoughts and feelings about how COVID was impacting their lives, but they also made recommendations on building back in a more inclusive and equitable way. They outlined specific action steps governments and funders can take now to prevent further damage. From lessening the digital divide to providing mental health care services to creating safe spaces for girls and young women, the measures they suggested are varied and require effort and resolve, but they are also completely doable.

One of the most basic needs young women and girls identified was for menstrual hygiene products and contraceptives. We heard reports of a rise in pregnancy among young women in the Philippines, for example, because they could not access contraception. While COVID-19 may be hard to control and understand, this is one health area we are well acquainted with and have the means to do something about.

The global community has the capacity to ensure young people today have the tools and support systems they need to not only survive the pandemic, but to thrive. If we don’t make these investments, we risk setting back advances in human rights, economic development, education, and health that we fought years and years to achieve. This International Youth Day, let’s heed the sound advice of young people and commit to putting more resources into practical solutions, into the organisations doing this crucial work, and into young people themselves. We can ensure they can claim a brighter future.

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