A Better Normal: Girls Call for a Revolutionary Reset

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This report was written by Plan International Youth Leaders in Australia and Vietnam. It delves into the issues that COVID-19 exposed in our systems, as well as the ways in which it has already transformed our society into something better, drawing on the views of girls and young women from around the world.

The pre-COVID-19 world undeniably failed girls and young women, in all our diversities. It failed to protect us, it failed to listen to us, and it failed to empower us.

These failures have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Girls have been removed from schools, with many unlikely to return. We know too that they are experiencing increasing levels of family and gender-based violence, as well as harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage/unions and female genital mutilation/cutting.

The additional onus on young women and girls to care for family members and complete domestic chores also increases demand and stress. Further, the divide between those with and those without is growing, with the economic recessions emerging from COVID-19 being described as ‘she-cessions’ due to how women – and especially young women – are being disproportionately affected.

COVID-19 is unlike anything we’ve experienced before. It raises questions, challenges and uncertainty; but equally, we believe it presents opportunities for reflection and change. This report shines a light on the impacts of these system failures and challenges on girls and young women, as well as our dreams for a just, equitable and sustainable future.

Through a dynamic appreciative inquiry process we designed a collective, overarching vision for this ‘better normal’, underpinned by six pillars. These are dreams of safety and freedom, of agency and empowerment, of a life centred around passions and peace, of a sustainable future, and of centring marginalised voices in everything we do. They are validated by over one thousand girls and young women from around the world.

As one of if not the most impacted groups, we want COVID-19 responses and recovery to be informed by what we have to say. To date we have not seen age and gender incorporated in any meaningful way in that agenda, despite these factors being clearly recognised as critical by those studying the impacts of the pandemic. We firmly believe that our visions presented in this report are aspirational, but also achievable and must be included in political and policy responses.

We believe power holders should hear us, because without actively listening to our voices – to girls and young women, who represent the intersection of youth and gender and often fall between the cracks in consultations and representation – we will end up recreating the same world we lived in before; because without an equity lens, you recreate inequalities.