Due to the effects of COVID-19 on the lives of young people, especially Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW), the HER Voice fund carried out a survey in 13 countries with the 60 organisations that are recipients of the funds. The survey aimed to devise means and ways to better support the AGYW in their diversity. The survey found that:
The survey reported increased cases of sexual and gender-based violence including Intimate partner violence
These were attributed to the country lockdowns which led to the closure of schools and AGYW were locked up in homes with their perpetrators who were mostly family members. Other AGYW were left redundant and in communities that exposed them to violence like fishing areas and markets.
Limited access to health centres for HIV and or TB treatment, and SRHR services
Young women are struggling with access to general SRHR and HIV services including access to ART, HIV testing and counselling services and this is accompanied with drug stockouts. These have disrupted adherence and access to HIV preventive services and post violence care.
Increased mental health issues
Many changes came abruptly that AGYW were not prepared to cope with. Abrupt closure of schools, getting infected with COVID-19, uncertain information about the spread and care of COVID-129, loss of loved ones and coping with the losses. In countries like Uganda, transport was stopped for both private and public cars. AGYW could not access their friends and tutors which also increased issues with their mental health. Many adolescents do not have space to explore and utilise their energies as the lockdowns promoted anti-social activities. These issues were listed in the survey as high contributors to increased mental health issues among AGYW especially those from young key populations.
Limited access to accurate information on COVID-19 and vaccines
The survey suggested that there is contradictory information in communities on treatment, care prevention of COVID-19 that is not validated which created fear and uncertainties.
HER Voice Fund COVID-19 Response
Considering the unprecedented and catastrophic challenges that impact the health and access to HIV and SRH services for AGYW, the HER Voice Fund COVID-19 Response was launched to support and increase the resilience of AGYW and organisations that serve young women.
The objectives of the response fund are:
- To create opportunities for AGYW to communicate and socialise virtually during the tough restrictions aiding in reduced mental health issues and depression. Advocate and create a safe space where AGYW are free to express their challenges and report issues on GBV without fear of victimisation.
- To navigate this rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation, AGYW needs to stay informed on the latest news, updates, and resources about the virus and its effect on the public. The pandemic has both short-term and far-reaching implications for our generations.
- To advocate for health care facilities and to ensure smooth delivery and accessibility of SRHR services for continued treatment for AGYW.
- Develop innovative ways of continuing with HIV education, training, and HIV testing, including HIV self-testing.
The fund will be active in 5 out of the 13 priority countries of HER Voice Fund. The countries were selected because of the nature of impact of COVID-19 and lockdowns. They include: Uganda, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Eswatini. The fund will be implemented from July to December 2021.
Based on the needs and challenges identified from the survey within the countries, the response fund will:
- Support in raising awareness on gender-based violence and available support systems, starting support systems for AGYW to protect themselves from abuse.
- Transport fares to support access to HIV and TB treatment, GBV and SRHR services
- Support AGYW with food hampers and feminine hygiene products.
- Development of materials with accurate information on COVID-19 to improve eradicating the myths and misconceptions around vaccination
- Support with personal protective equipment( PPE), including access to COVID-19 testing, water, sanitisers and soap.
From these interventions, the response fund wishes to increase the unexplored opportunities and spaces for AGYW to engage better especially with issues around GBV, navigate the changing COVID-19 pandemic with access to accurate information, and ensure better access to SRHR and HIV services.