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Protecting and empowering adolescent girls from gender-based violence in emergencies

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Violence is a daily reality for many adolescent girls around the world, largely due to deeply entrenched social norms and practises that perpetuate gender inequality. When conflict or disaster strike, a girls’ risk of exploitation, violence, and abuse only increases - at significantly higher rates than adolescent boys.

Just when they need support and security the most, girls’ already fragile support networks, limited access to safe public spaces, and tenuous claim on schooling are further strained by crises and displacement. For too many girls worldwide, an emergency starts as a single “event” but transforms into decades of protracted displacement, affecting their education, health, safety, livelihoods, and futures. Thus adolescent girls are one of the most marginalised populations within an already vulnerable group of refugees and internally displaced people.

The international community must recognise that preventing and responding to gender-based violence (GBV) is essential and life-saving for women and girls in humanitarian emergencies, and prioritise it accordingly. Despite their unique vulnerabilities and the untapped potential they bring to their families, communities, and nations, the international community is falling short in protecting and empowering adolescent girls in emergencies. Investing in strategies and programmes specifically tailored to adolescent girls is essential to help build long-term solutions in countries affected by conflict and disaster that will lead to greater gender-equitable norms and ultimately reduce the violence women and girls face in and out of crises.

Uniquely affected: Adolescent girls in humanitarian crises

Adolescence is a time of growth and exploration; when opportunities and social networks expand and young people begin to develop their own sense of identity and future. In many contexts around the world, however, adolescence is also a time when girls’ worlds often begin to shrink and their self-esteem and aspirations give way to harmful gender norms and violence. They begin to internalise beliefs that girls have less value and are less capable than boys, which often translates into a denial of education, social isolation, and exploitation. Navigating these challenges is even more difficult for the more than 500 million adolescent girls living in countries affected by conflict and displacement. Conflict, poverty, and existing gender inequitable norms put adolescent girls in the crosshairs of violence.

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