Plan International UK - 2nd Submission to the International Development Committee’s Inquiry into the impacts of Coronavirus – October 2020
Contact: Penny Hanton, Public Affairs Officer. E: firstname.lastname@example.org
In April 2020 Plan International UK made a written submission to the International Development Committee’s inquiry into the Impacts of Covid-19.
Since then Covid-19 has persisted. It has fuelled a hidden pandemic of gender-based violence, food insecurity, educational disruption and curtailed girls’ access to vital healthcare. The severity and length of the pandemic has been devastating for girls’ rights all over the world, the impact on girls affected by existing crises has been acute.
In the context of the new FCDO, Integrated Review and £2.9bn of ODA cuts, it is critical that the government builds on its global leadership by setting out an ambitious vision for the FCDO and Global Britain that puts poverty reduction and promoting gender equality at its heart. This would include continuing to be a global leader in the urgent Covid-19 response, demonstrating high-level political commitment to gender equality, recommitting to the Strategic Vision for Gender Equality and spending at least 50% of ODA in fragile states and regions.
- Non-coronavirus health care; the communities trust and engagement in healthcare provision (especially in relation to other infectious diseases and immunisation)
- The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns have created barriers to accessing healthcare, this has particularly impacted healthcare deemed ‘non-essential’.
- Women and girls are experiencing limitations in their access to sexual and reproductive health services (SRH) including post rape and GBV care. Complications due to pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death of 15-19 year old girls globally.
- In Uganda, currently only care for expectant mothers is deemed essential, girls’ access to medical facilities has been reduced by almost 35% within the lockdown period alone.
- Research undertaken by Plan International and UNFPA in Lebanon found that 83% of female respondents that previously had access to SRHR services are no longer accessing these services since the outbreak of Covid-19. Additionally, only 18% of adolescent girls reported having access to information on SRHR services during the lockdown compared to 37% before.
- In surveys undertaken during the Covid-19 pandemic by Plan International UK, respondents in Uganda and Nigeria spoke anecdotally about the increase in child marriage and teenage pregnancy in their communities. There was a particular concern that those girls wouldn’t return to school as a result.
- We welcome the joint statement by the UK, alongside 58 other governments in May 2020 on the importance of protecting sexual and reproductive health services during the Covid-19 response.
- More widely on community engagement, many of the mechanisms that allowed girls to be heard in decision-making processes before the pandemic have been deemed ‘non-essential’ and are restricted by lockdown measures.
- The FCDO should continue to prioritise SRHR and GBV response within the global response as essential life-saving services and work to remove barriers to access such as remote provision.
- The FCDO and international partners working with government health and education ministries, should ensure that comprehensive sexuality education, including how to access SRH information and services, is included within school curriculum including as part of online and offline distance learning.
- The UK government should ensure the full and swift implementation of the Minimum Initial Services Package in humanitarian settings, including adolescent responsive services and support expansion to wider services as soon as possible.
- Authorities at all levels must ensure that planning and decision-making processes related to the response to Covid-19 incorporate and respond to the voices of all population groups affected by the outbreak and its secondary impacts including the meaningful participation of girls.
- Economy and food security; economic performance, development and level of ODA (implications for livelihoods and food security and nutrition)
- Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on economies and exacerbated existing food crises. The World Bank has predicted that this year global poverty will increase.
- In surveys undertaken with South Sudanese adolescent girls and young women living in refugee camps in Uganda by Plan International, 100% of respondents spoke of lower food rations, this was the primary cause of stress across the survey. Many respondents advised that they were now only eating once a day. Adolescent girls also spoke about their economic situation being a driver of sexual exploitation, particularly in exchange for food, sanitary pads and other basic necessities.
- Girls have spoken to Plan International about their fears of increased sexual exploitation: “My fear with this virus in Liberia is that women will really suffer. We will suffer over food. Men will abuse us. Because if I don’t have food and a boy has food, if I ask him for help, he will ask me for sex before he gives me some. This is the suffering I am talking about.” Janet, 14, Liberia
- School closures and the suspension of school feeding programmes has increased hunger for many families.
- On the 2nd September the FCDO committed a £119m aid package to tackle the combined threat of Coronavirus and famines. Along side this financial package the Foreign Secretary appointed Nick Dyer as Special Envoy for Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Affairs.
- Plan International UK strongly welcomes these announcements and would be pleased to see further action and assurances that UK aid funding will reach marginalised girls vulnerable to famine and the associated risks.
- In the context of the new FCDO and declining aid budget, the UK should make particular efforts to ensure that ODA is targeted to effectively reduce poverty, uphold the rights of particularly marginalised groups including women and girls and meet their existing commitments to spend 50% of ODA in fragile and conflict-affected countries and regions.
- The new FCDO should ensure that the distribution of the £119m funding packaged announced in September is underpinned by a strong gender analysis and reaches the most marginalised and at risk communities.
- The UK government should play a leading role in coordinating work with other national governments to ensure that critical lifesaving and life-sustaining humanitarian activities can continue including preventing the disruption of services and supplies essential for adolescent girls’ health, safety and wellbeing.
3. Treatment of women and children; levels of domestic abuse, gender-based violence and exploitation of women and children, including child marriage
- Covid-19 has caused an alarming shadow pandemic of gender-based violence (GBV), severe educational disruption and an increased risk of child marriage. The increase in GBV is directly linked, in part, to increasing food insecurity, economic decline and school closures.
- UNFPA has estimated that Covid-19 has caused a one third reduction in progress towards ending GBV by 2030.
- In Somalia, there has been a 50% increase in calls to GBV helplines. In Tunisia, in the first five days after lockdown, calls to a hotline for women suffering abuse increased fivefold.
- We welcome the global leadership role the UK is playing as a co-chair of the Generation Equality Action Coalition on GBV.
- Covid-19 has caused educational disruption around the world. UNESCO estimates that at least 500 million children and young people are currently unable to access public educational provision and distance learning alternatives. We would encourage the Committee to place a strong emphasis on the leaning crisis with its focus on the UK’s response to Covid-19 globally.
- Despite the efforts worldwide to provide remote learning during the pandemic many children are unable to access these; 60% of distance learning alternatives relying on online platforms, but 465 million children do not have access to the internet at home.
- For the most marginalised children, school closures present a significant and urgent danger. Out of school girls experience increased risk of violence in the home, and are more likely to experience early marriage.
- We welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to girls’ education. But to make good on this commitment, the government must urgently continue to tackle the toxic mix of gender inequalities that keep girls from learning and are exacerbated by Covid-19 - such as child marriage, early pregnancy and sexual violence. These issues must be core to the mission of the new FCDO.
- The FCDO and international partners should prioritise funding for services preventing and responding to violence and deem them essential services. They must ensure funding at all stages of the response for protection services across sectors, including helplines, case management, safe spaces, mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), access to justice services, and sexual and reproductive health services.
- The FCDO should support the meaningful participation of girls and girl-led groups in the development of response and recovery plans and measures addressing GBV, in particular local community and grassroots groups and organisations. The GBV Action Coalition process is an opportunity to consult and partner with girls in this work.
- The FCDO should protect education funding and increase the proportion of ODA spent on education to 15%The FCDO should commit to the Send My Friend to School Campaign’s Seven Core Principles of Education Development, Including a gender responsive and systems approach to education reform.
- The FCDO and international partners should prioritise gender-sensitive, inclusive and flexible distance learning in the emergency response while schools are closed and focus on the poorest and most marginalised children including girls, children with disabilities, internally displaced children and refugees.
- As schools reopen, the FCDO should fund and promote initiatives which support married girls, pregnant girls and young mothers to return fully to education. This could include flexible learning opportunities, catch-up courses and accelerated learning and removal of restrictive laws and policies.
 African Child Policy Forum and Plan International (August, 2020), Under Siege: Impact of Covid-19 on Girls in Africa. https://plan-international.org/publications/under-seige-impacts-covid19-african-girls
 African Child Policy Forum and Plan International (August, 2020), Under Siege: Impact of Covid-19 on Girls in Africa.
 Plan International Lebanon (Arpil, 2020) Covid-19 Multi-Sectoral Needs Assessment. See also UNFPA Jordan, Plan International and Noor Al Hussein Foundation (May, 2020) Daring to Ask, Listen, Act: A Snapshot of the Impacts of Covid-19 on Women and Girls’ Rights and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights.
 Plan International UK (June, 2020), The Impacts of Covid-19 on Girls in Crisis. https://plan-uk.org/file/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-girls-in-crisispdf-0/download?token=vTGWyPuN
 Plan International UK (June, 2020), The Impacts of Covid-19 on Girls in Crisis.
 Plan International UK (June, 2020), The Impacts of Covid-19 on Girls in Crisis.
 Plan International (May, 2020), Covid-19: Going Hungry. https://plan-international.org/publications/going-hungry
 UNFPA (2020). Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Family Planning and Ending Gender-based Violence, Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage.
 UN Women (2020), Impact of COVID-19 on violence against women and girls and service provision: UN Women rapid assessment and findings.
 HRW (2020), Covid-19 and Children’s Rights.
 Giannini, Stefania (2020), “Distance Learning Denied”. https://gemreportunesco.
 Send My Friend to School (2020), Keep All My Friends Learning. https://sendmyfriend.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Keep-All-My-Friends-Learning-Policy-Briefing-1.pdf