A community of optimists hosted by Melinda French Gates

What the pandemic looks like for girls around the world

6 min
by Faza
A young girl sits in a classroom in Vietnam. She wears a mask while she works on her schoolwork.
Meet recent college graduate Fatimah, who lives in Indonesia and volunteers as a youth advocate with international girls’ rights organization, Plan International. We invited Fatimah to tell us how the pandemic has affected her life, including the experience of attending her commencement ceremony online.

For many girls around the world, the prospect of college, or of any form of schooling, was already unlikely, and now, thanks to the pandemic, education is even more out of reach. Keep reading after Fatimah’s story for a glimpse of how the pandemic is impacting other girls’ lives and learning around the globe.

Fatimah, Indonesia, age 24

“My friends often call me Faza, which is short for my full name, Fatimah. I am an extrovert, full of liveliness, passion, excitement, persistence, and warmth toward the people around me.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I can no longer leave the house and interact face-to-face with the communities that give my life meaning and purpose. Although I can see people online, not all friends, communities, and girls around me have access to adequate technology and the internet, even in urban areas. The cost of a decent gadget to have a video conferencing application is not cheap, and other challenges include the price of internet data packages and slow or non-existent signals. The communication and the learning process, as well as carrying out actual research, take a long time.

I was a bit miserable at my bachelor's degree commencement earlier this year, forcing a smile for the screen (that’s me in blue, with glasses):
A young woman in Indonesia wears a graduation cap and gown while sitting with her family watching a screen.
I was full of emotion because I couldn't hug my friends who were struggling together to complete our thesis during the pandemic. I miss them. I hope they continue to be healthy and survive the uncertain situation.

I had worked on my thesis for my bachelor's degree during the pandemic lockdown in Jakarta from March through September. The topic of my thesis was a critique of the current diversion system that keeps children out of the formal criminal justice system in Indonesia. Current Indonesian law is unclear about the preconditions for children who can go through the diversion process, which leads to different interpretations and practices, depending on law enforcement officials. Most importantly, there are no rules regarding children's consent, whether the child wants to go through the diversion process as opposed to having a full and fair trial. The lack of clarity around children’s consent is out of keeping with accepted international standards, and I wanted to provide solutions that would be helpful for the future improvement of diversion mechanisms and the juvenile justice system in Indonesia.

Unfortunately, due to restrictions put in place for COVID, I didn't have the chance to discuss my research with many relevant people who could provide their perspective and expertise — including the voices of children in conflict with the law.
A young woman wears a headscarf and holds a sign urging the passage of a bill to eliminate sexual violence.
Along with thousands of other young people who have just graduated from college during this pandemic, I am finding it difficult to secure a decent job. Even those friends who were already working had their wages cut and were even fired because some sectors of the economy were closed. The types of work needed today are changing and developing very rapidly, with almost all of them requiring digitally-based innovation — which means we need access, knowledge, and the ability to navigate digital technology and the internet.

I really hope all young women who are still struggling with their education continue to be passionate in their struggles — and I want to tell them thank you for surviving. I also hope all educational institutions can support them wholeheartedly.”

Angelina, Mozambique, age 17

“They are rushing me to get married.”

“In my family, we have always struggled financially, but the uncertainty with the coronavirus and its future effects on our income is making people desperate. Things have become very uncomfortable for me since the state of emergency began. Being at home all day with my family is dreadful, because they are rushing me to get married. Sometimes I try to avoid the issue of marriage by doing extra chores or showing interest in my books, so they put less pressure on me or change the subject of marriage in conversations — but it keeps coming up and I don’t know how to respond anymore. If the older generation like my grandmother and my uncle had information about the positives of sending girls to school as opposed to just having them aspire to marriage, the pressure on me and other girls would stop.”
A young girl in Mozambique stands for a picture in front of a white wall while wearing a blue and grey striped sweater

Emma, Ghana, age 14

“I spend the day doing chores.”

“I feel so scared and worried about the situation. My worry is how to prevent the coronavirus from affecting myself and my family. Also, because of this virus, I am in the house all day. I don’t like being here because I am the only one doing all the housework from morning to evening. We were not given much homework and I don’t have any textbooks of my own to read while I’m at home, so I spend the day doing chores, cleaning and running errands for my mother.”
A young girl in Ghana sits in a chair in front of a building scrubbing laundry in a bucket. A full bucket of laundry sits next to her.

Ha Vy, Vietnam, age 9

“It’s sad to sit apart.”

“In the morning, when we go to school, we have our temperature measured at the gate; we also have to wash our hands well before going to class. My class is now divided into two halves. We study in the morning and the other children in the afternoon. Before the pandemic, two of us shared a table. Now there is only one person per table. It's sad to sit apart, but I'm happy because at least I can go to school again.”
A young girl sits in a classroom in Vietnam. She wears a mask while she works on her schoolwork.

Lixiana, Nicaragua, age 17

“My dreams haven't changed. What has changed is the time I have to achieve them.”

“What I miss most is going to class. I was going to experience that change from high school to university and now I’m not going out at all. I need to share with my classmates, learn new knowledge, go to class... My dreams haven't changed. What has changed is the time I have to achieve them. I really had many things I wanted to do such as learning English and accounting. They are the things I'm going to have to delay. But I always have in mind that I'm going to do them."
A young woman in Nicaragua lays on her stomach on the grass while studying for class.
Discover more girls' stories and learn how the pandemic is impacting girls around the world with these two reports from Plan International: Halting Lives: the impact of COVID-19 on girls and young women and A Better Normal: Girls Call for a Revolutionary Reset.