On Tuesday, June 23rd, WAGGGS Europe hosted an online event about the impact of Covid-19 on girls and young women. The External Relations team led a successful panel discussion with valuable contributions by Sarah Nancollas (WAGGGS CEO), Ingrid Bellander Todino (DG JUST), Nefeli Themeli (WAGGGS), Pauline Mukanza (EWL), Anat Friedman (Hebrew Scouts Movement Israel) and Urška Mali Kovačič (Slovenian Catholic Girl Guides and Boy Scouts Association).
The main focus of the discussion was to share how WAGGGS and its Member Organisations adjusted their educational programmes since the pandemic, how the EU Gender Equality strategy adopted by the EU Commission last March will be put into action despite the pandemic and which role could women organisations like WAGGGS play.
Ms. Nancollas expressed her appreciation for the way Μember Οrganisations of WAGGGS are coping with the current situation. She also shared the main takeaways of WAGGGS position statement about the effect the pandemic has had on young girls and women, for example isolation, home schooling, increased caring responsibilities, and unemployment in female dominated sectors (e.g. air and ground staff, waitresses, hotel cleaners, and entertainment industry). Some workers can no longer work because of imposed quarantine due to health issues, pregnancy, or to protect vulnerable family members. While others, such as health professionals, have to work longer hours whilst being more exposed to the virus than the general population. A very concerning side effect of COVID-19 is the increase, up to 30% in some EU countries, of reported domestic violence cases. Additionally, WAGGGS wishes to encourage everyone to use the current situation as an opportunity to step up their efforts to protect women's rights. Ms. Themeli gave an overview of one such action: the WAGGGS advocacy campaign “Stop the Violence: Speak out for girls’ rights”.
Ms. Bellander Todino emphasised that young people should be central in the fight against gender inequality. The voices of girls and boys need to be heard. Ms. Mukanza welcomed the fact that gender equality is being put at the heart of political agendas. Except for including an equality perspective in all EU policy areas, it is significant that the political discussion on post-COVID economy actions also has a gender dimension so as to ensure that women are not left out of aid measures.
As Nancollas stated, WAGGGS member organisations are doing a great job in adapting to the new situation and launched some amazing initiatives in their countries. A survey in the UK by Girlguiding reveals that 25% of girls aged 11-14 and 50% of girls aged 15-18 reported that the pandemic and associated lockdown had a negative impact on their mental health. half of girls between 4-14 have felt sad or lonely most of the time. Further to the topic of mental health, the Slovenian Member Organisation launched an online psychology test which measures depression, anxiety and stress; the result will help the users understand if they need professional help. They are also offering a 5-week mindfulness programme tailor-made for girls. In another initiative, the Israeli Member Organisation organised a Women’s March to tackle the surge of domestic violence cases and called on the government to act. They continue to engage their members on social issues through quality non-formal education which helps children thrive for a better world. More information about other COVID-19 Guiding and Scouting initiatives in the Europe Region is available here.