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The five most challenging places to grow up a girl today

In humanitarian crisis and conflict, there is no easy place to grow up, and gender inequality makes growing up a girl particularly challenging. Ahead of the International Day of the Girl, International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) experts are calling attention to the five most challenging places to grow up a girl today.

In AfghanistanYemenCentral African Republic (CAR), Syria, and Niger—conflict, crisis, and instability have contributed to increased rates of child marriage, adolescent birth, illiteracy, and gender based violence that put girls’ lives and futures in peril. The IRC analysis utilised available data from the countries in which it operates along with current contextual factors and expertise of technical staff to develop the list of the most challenging places for girls. 

Adolescent girls living in each context included are facing violence and a lack of equal opportunities. This International Day of the Girl, the IRC calls on the international community to use all means to redouble its efforts to ensure girls not only survive humanitarian conflict, crisis and disaster, but are able to thrive into their futures. This must include furthering efforts to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls in all humanitarian settings, and to ensure equal opportunities and education for girls, as many girls find themselves not returning to the classroom this school year.

Notable figures contributing to the conclusions include:

  • In the first half of this year, women and children increasingly bore the brunt of the violence in the country and made up around half of all civilian casualties. While security situation has since stabilised, humanitarian needs across the country have increased with women and girls making up half of those in need.
  • The rate of forced and early marriage of girls has more than doubled since the war started with as many as two-thirds of Yemeni girls married while they are still children [1].
  • Only 25% of women have completed primary school in the Central African Republic (CAR), while male literacy is double that of female literacy [2].
  • According to a survey in northwest Syria from 2020, more than half of women and girls said that the fear of sexual exploitation, abuse, and kidnapping drove forced early marriage in Syria [3].
  • In Niger, 56% of all girls are out of school. Niger has the highest percentage of girls who are married before 18, with three out of four girls married before the age of 18 [4].

“The triple threat of conflict, COVID-19 and climate change are dramatically worsening already dire situations for girls living in crisis-affected countries. Now more than ever, it is vital that humanitarian actors like the International Rescue Committee remain committed to addressing the unique needs of adolescent girls”, said Nicole Behnam, senior director of IRC’s Violence Protection and Response unit.

“Crises of any kind impact women and girls differently because of gender inequality, and we do not have to look hard to find examples. As the crisis in Afghanistan continues, the IRC is concerned by the increase in violence against women and increased risk of child marriage and loss of educational opportunities for girls. Everywhere, COVID-19 has kept students out of school and increased the risks of violence against women and girls, causing a “shadow pandemic”. For adolescent girls living in conflict or crisis, we need to support their whole lives if we want to truly empower the next generation of girls as future leaders with equal opportunities to thrive. Central to that is education, of course, as well as services for their protection, health and overall empowerment. These are all services which every person has a right to but which too many adolescent girls have been deprived of for too long”, Behnam continued.

In the countries identified in this analysis-and beyond—world leaders and humanitarian actors alike must not forget the urgent needs of girls. Gender inequality makes it dangerous for girls in every humanitarian context, not just those on this list. Gender inequality does not appear because of conflict but is often exacerbated by it and when women and girls lack power in their homes and communities, every shock—whether armed conflict, drought, flood or COVID19—has the potential to affect them more than others.

The risks that come with being young and female make displacement even more challenging. To meet those challenges, the IRC takes a holistic approach for girls in humanitarian settings—including through such efforts as health services, post-rape care, psychosocial support, providing safe spaces, education, and programs that seek to support, protect, and empower adolescent girls in humanitarian settings. 

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.