TORONTO, March 23, 2020 – As the world faces the worst health crisis of a generation, Plan International Canada is extremely concerned about vulnerable populations around the world – particularly children. Plan International Canada welcome’s the Government of Canada’s recent funding announcement to support humanitarian actors responding to COVID-19 and calls on governments and all responders to consider the unique needs of children, especially girls.
Disease outbreaks affect girls and boys, women and men differently. Policies and interventions must be equitable, protective of human rights, inclusive of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society, and responsive to the different needs and risks faced by individuals. It is especially important to apply a gender lens at all times across all actions. Girls, especially those from marginalized communities and with disabilities, may be particularly affected by the secondary impacts of the outbreak due to their age, gender and other exclusion factors.
“Planning and decision-making processes related to COVID-19 must incorporate the voices of all population groups, including children,” says Dr. Tanjina Mirza, co-CEO and chief programs officer with Plan International Canada. “This includes strengthening the leadership and meaningful participation of girls and young women. Oftentimes, emergency and health responses focus on the needs of adults and children, ignoring the unique needs of adolescent girls who fall between a child and adult woman.”
Plan International Canada is also concerned about how an economic downturn will impact those who are already living in poverty. Economic stress on families resulting from the outbreak and its secondary impacts may increase the potential for child labour, child early and forced marriage of girls and other negative coping strategies. We will ensure responses to the outbreak take measures to protect and support families, especially women and children as they face economic hardship.
COVID-19 risks in refugee settings
Dr. Mirza, a medical doctor who previously worked in refugee camps, is particularly concerned for refugee and displaced children.
“Plan International Canada is active in over 75 countries around the world, including in large refugee camps and with families who have been displaced, usually as a result of conflict. The techniques we’re using in Canada to flatten the curve of this pandemic are simply not possible in a refugee camp setting,” stresses Mirza. “Refugee families live in crowded spaces, often with poor hygiene and sanitation and health services, further exacerbated for women’s and girls’ domestic and caregiving roles. This can quickly turn into a catastrophic situation.”
In many refugee-hosting countries, refugees are not living in dedicated, formalized camps, but in urban settings among vulnerable, poor communities whose resources are strained and where the infrastructure is fragile. This is true as well of populations displaced within their own countries, such as in northern Nigeria, where communities lack testing facilities and the ability to wash their hands regularly due to shortages of water and soap. Social isolation is not feasible when many families live in one-room houses. This exponentially increases the risk of such an outbreak, and its negative outcomes.
How Plan International Canada is responding to COVID-19
Plan International Canada is committed to ensuring our programming to advance children’s rights and equality for girls continues as much as possible during COVID 19. Children, especially girls, and whole communities would be negatively affected by stoppages in our work.
With experience and expertise in medical emergencies from cholera to Ebola, and as the only Canadian implementing agency of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, we are considering how best to assist communities with the COVID-19 outbreak.
Plan International, with a presence in over 75 countries globally, will focus on working with communities, national governments and partners to tackle the spread of coronavirus through dissemination of public health information and promotion of best hygiene practices, including installation of hand-washing facilities. We will also intensify support and preventive measures in existing refugee and displaced camps where we are already working. All of our work, in any situation, places gender equality as a foundational element.
Refugee camps and contexts:
Plan International and other organizations working within refugee camps have different roles to ensure there is no overlap. Our work is complementary in order to maximize resources. This can include camp management, lead roles on child protection and education in emergencies, to name a few.
In Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, Plan International is a major implementing partner, responsible for child protection across the camp with a focus on building the agency and leadership of adolescent girls and boys in child protection. We have repurposed the roles of our staff there, and now about 1,000 of our staff, teachers, volunteers and case workers have been trained on hygiene practices and awareness raising in Cox’s Bazar and the communities they work and live in. We are also the lead in the education cluster there and in other countries, so we are developing guidelines for child protection in the areas of hygiene and health in the places where we work.
About Plan International Canada
Plan International Canada is a member of a global organization dedicated to advancing children’s rights and equality for girls. We have been building powerful partnerships for children for over 80 years and are now active in more than 70 countries. We are calling on all Canadians to Defy Normal: to believe in the power and potential of every child and to take a stand anywhere children are oppressed, exploited or left behind and anywhere girls aren’t equally valued. Together, we can create a world where all unleash their full potential. Visit plancanada.ca for more information and follow @PlanCanada on social media to #DefyNormal and join the conversation.