NEW DELHI, India: 13 April 2021: A new study released today reveals girls’ perspectives on how their lives have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic hit and presents their recommendations for actions the government, city planners, corporates, and others should take. The girls report that their lives have been negatively impacted in many ways, with the crisis exacerbating pre-existing inequities. Pressure to marry early, increased chores, depression, and limited access to education and work opportunities are among the major challenges they report.
The study was carried out by a group of 25 girls from 7 cities: Ahmedabad, Alwar, Bareily, Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai and Pune. Supported by the UK Government (in India) within its broader work to support sustainable urban development and conceived and conducted by EMpower—The Emerging Markets Foundation, the study adopted a unique methodology that trained girls as researchers to conduct interviews with 153 girls from their communities. “We believe that girls are experts in their lives and they can not only lift up the realities of the pandemic, but they are best placed to advise us about how to re-build post pandemic.” said Dr. Nisha Dhawan, Country Director of EMpower in India.
The study illustrates that the precarious situation of girls pre-COVID has only worsened after the pandemic. All girls who were interviewed from Alwar—a district of Rajasthan where the child sex ratio dropped from 887 in 2001 to 865 in 2011—reported an increased pressure to get married and 5 out of 6 girls reported some form of mental health distress. Nearly all of the girls who believed there was an increase in gender-based violence during the lockdown were from two cities alone: Lucknow and Alwar. The overwhelming majority (80%) of girls said household chores continue to be their responsibility, despite everyone being home during the lockdown, and only 9% said that male relatives help in household chores.

Seema Dosad, a member of EMpower’s Girls Advisory Council, a girl-led group that advises EMpower, said: “Before, girls were used to facing the "usual problems," but COVID created some "new problems" that the girls weren't even aware of. I’m not sure if previous days were [actually] better or if we were just blindfolded by the fact that we were used to those issues.”

Amongst the biggest barriers girls currently face is accessing education and adapting to online learning. Respondents also cited financial loss in their households, decreased mobility, and job loss as major challenges. A staggering 90% of girls and young women reported mental health issues during COVID, ranging from mental distress to depression, lingering sadness, lack of confidence, loneliness, and feelings of helplessness.

As a part of the research process, the girl leaders clearly articulated what needs to change, sharing specific recommendations for the government, city planners, funders, corporates, and civil society organisations that they feel are crucial. Their recommendations include building safe and violence-free spaces in public parks to talk about mental health, creating digital hubs in communities for girls to access the internet, establishing girls-only spaces within the community where they can come should they feel the threat of violence, and investing in blended learning options beyond the pandemic.

Despite the many challenges they face, the girls are still hopeful about their prospects. The study argues that their voices need to be heard now and government, community, business, and other leaders must take actions to ensure girls are an essential part of India’s recovery. “What I did find heartening was that many of the girls stayed positive and were still hopeful about the future. This hope can only fructify if girls, and their recommendations, are listened to,” noted Dr. Ravinder Kaur, Professor of Sociology and Social Anthropology at IIT Delhi.