Day of the girl child:
When a crisis strikes, it affects you.
When the ground shivers beneath you, when you watch the storm make landfall, when soldiers knock down your door in the middle of the night, when your crops beg for water, when you start to run a fever during an Ebola outbreak, it affects you.
But when you’re a girl, these crises become exponentially more dangerous, both in the immediate effects and post-crisis recovery.
The research emerging over the past few years confirms what field teams have seen for ages – that women and girls are more likely to die in a large-scale disaster compared to men and less likely to gain access to resources, such as information about how to access recovery efforts, healthcare, education and financial recovery1. Further, the secondary repercussions of the post-crisis chaos expose women and girls to increased levels of violence, which historically have been ignored during standard humanitarian aid delivery.
With the Start Fund at the Start Network, we aim to change a broken system.
Across the history of the Start Fund, our membership has worked to reach women and girls in crisis and correct old behaviours that have often disregarded this group. For example, Alert 224 Fiji (Cyclone), members knew when writing proposals that reaching women and girls was paramount to an effective response as Fiji has one of the highest domestic and intimate partner violence rates in the world. A consortium of members targeted response activities around reaching vulnerable families, as well as a mass communications campaign informing women and girls on how to reach response services of clean water, shelter and education activities while the homes and schools were being rebuilt.
During Alert 3 for Start Fund Bangladesh - when floods hit the north last year, it was noted during the post-project debrief that although cash distributions were beneficial to the response effort, the needs of adolescent girls were towards the bottom of the priority list of household recovery purchases. This left many young women without access to menstrual hygiene products, which affects women’s ability to go to school, work or support her household. The learning concluded that handing out women’s hygiene products along with cash distributions could reduce this likelihood in the future.
Additionally, crises response can reach women and girls to meet their specific needs or they can work with men to mitigate the spread of violence after a crisis. In Alert 192 Zambia (Displacement), the response focused on two refugee camps following an influx of displaced people from DRC crossed into Zambia. After two of the camps residents were arrested for perpetrating sexual violence in the camp, Oxfam hosted a gender-based violence prevention session to ascertain why the violence was happening and how to mitigate the spread of violence in the camps.
As a sector, we have a long way to go to meet the needs of girls globally. Changes are incremental and require behaviour change in agencies, donors and individuals in organisational goals, programme development and funding priorities. However, a step by step process can be sluggish and leave millions of girls in dangerous and vulnerable situations in the process. There is so much more we can do, so much we aim to do to ensure the basic needs of girls and women are met during a crisis response. We can do more and we aim to do more, because girls deserve it.
On the International Day of the Girl, let us commit to investing in skills training and education for girls and livelihood activities for young women around the world who are facing crises.