The COVID-19 pandemic poses an urgent threat to the wellbeing of girls. It is another form of systemic violence, exacerbating the vulnerabilities that girls already face.
If not prevented and responded now, girls in the Wood Buffalo region will more likely to go through harmful experience – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. And, the impact will be inter-generational.
This calls for an urgent action.
Adapting to the 'new normal', girls need a safe-space to talk, digest, support one another and gain skills and knowledge needed to break through this challenge together. By taking the action today, you can join #GirlsToo movement.
Girls under the age of 18 in Canada are 4-5 more likely than boys to be abused by a family member, with girls ages 14-17 facing the highest risk (Burczycka & Conroy,2018). Girls are more likely to internalize stress than boys, increasing their susceptibilities to engaging in risky stress coping mechanisms and experiencing mental illness.
Our over 15 years of direct learning from our girls in the Wood Buffalo region indicates that more than 1 in 5 teen girls in our community “would not know what to do” if they felt sad, stressed or depressed.
Bullying behaviour peaks for girls in Grades 8 and 9 at 28% (Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre, 2019).
Girls ages 15-17 were twice as likely to report high levels of daily stress than their male peers (Hudon, 2017). Lack of healthy self-care access and/or knowledge to make informed decisions has led to alarming facts amongst girls in grades 7-12 (Government of Canada, 2016).
Now, conditions created by COVID-19 are leaving girls in our community even more vulnerable. With Alberta poised to suffer the largest economic decline in Canada and the province’s history (CBC News, March 26, 2020), financial stress on girls’ caregivers in this community cannot be undermined.
As the Wood Buffalo Region makes significant contributions to the province’s economy, the level of household stress in Wood Buffalo could be much deeper than the rest of the province. This leads to a great level of anxiety and tension in households, creating increased risk of domestic violence and substance misuse. With prolonged school closures and self-distancing, girls now lack a peer support system or safe-space provided by our regular in-person programs.
To address such issues, girls are spending more time in the cyber-virtual space. Social connectivity certainly yields positive impact such as a support system in replacement of in-person contact. However, we also recognize that it comes with negative impacts, such as cyber bullying, invasion of personal space and overloading information.
As a small local non-profit mandated to inspire all girls to be strong, smart and bold, we had to implement some temporary organizational restructuring measures to ensure that we continue to serve our girls when they need our support the most.
With limited available resources, however, we are proactively exploring alternative program delivery options and managed to roll-out our online programming on March 31. It has yielded some promising learning, including confirmation of girls’ need for such a program, level of anxiety etc.
And we need your help to continue to be there for our girls.
With your help, more girls can participate in our Staying Strong Mentoring, #GirlsToo, Operation/Reaching SMART and more!