A group of anti-child marriage advocates in Bangladesh are circled together with arms raised in the air.

Peer educator and campaigner against child marriage, Jasmin, 19 (pictured centre), with the group she set up in her village in Sylhet, Bangladesh.

Why COVID-19 Is Putting Hard-Won Progress for Girls at Risk

The year 2020 was supposed to be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for women and girls. The year when governments, businesses, organizations and individuals who believe in equal treatment for all people were going to develop a five-year plan for how to work together to accelerate progress for gender equality, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Then COVID-19 struck. 

Now, 2020 risks being a year of irreversible setbacks and lost progress for girls. Unless the world acts fast and decisively, the impact on girls’ futures – and on all our futures – will be devastating. 

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995: A blueprint for advancing girl's rights

Adapted in September 1995 at the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women, the Declaration Platform for Action imagines a world where each woman and girl can exercise her freedoms and choices, and realize all her rights, such as to live free from violence, to go to school, to participate in decisions and to earn equal pay for equal work.[1]

Today, that message remains decisive: the world’s 1.3 billion girls are essential in building a stronger and more just future. 

25 years of progress is in peril

Great progress has been made with and for girls since countries promised to work toward gender equality in 1995. 

  • Girls born today are twice as likely to survive beyond the age of five as girls in their mothers’ generation, born 25 years ago. 
  • They are more likely to have the food they need to grow, learn, survive and thrive. 
  • The gender equality gap in access to education has almost closed. 
  • Before COVID-19, the number of girls engaged in child labor was shrinking, though only half as fast as the number of boys. 
  • 78.6 million child marriages have been prevented by progress to end the practice over the last 25 years.

But today that progress is in peril. And not just because of the COVID-19 crisis. 

Even before the pandemic, rates of child marriage and adolescent pregnancy were flatlining

While girls’ health, nutrition and access to education have improved over the last 25 years, even before the pandemic hit, progress to end child marriage and reduce adolescent pregnancy had slowed to a halt. 

Now, as a result of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis...

  •  An additional 2.5 million girls are at risk of child marriage over five years.
  •  Adolescent pregnancies are expected to rise by up to 1 million in 2020.
  •  It is estimated that 9.7 million children may never return to school post-COVID.
  •  The number of children living in poverty is estimated to climb by around 100 million.

We must act to protect a generation of girls from the worst impacts of COVID-19 

The impact of COVID-19 on girls’ futures and dreams of achieving gender equality within their lifetimes depends on how the world chooses to act now. Decisions about how to respond to the pandemic will have lasting consequences. 

Decision-makers today must act to protect a generation of girls from the worst impacts of COVID-19. And they must work with girls to shape both immediate responses and long-term reforms – so that girls are able to realize their rights and have opportunities to pursue the futures they choose.

*Adapted from Save the Children's The Global Girlhood Report 2020.

[1] UN Women

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