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Girls and gender-expansive youth collectively faced greater mental health barriers, more caregiving responsibilities and fewer resources during the pandemic, according to a new report from the Oakland-based nonprofit Alliance for Girls.
Using mixed method analyses to survey more than 1,200 girls across the state, the report found that the isolation in the early stages of the lockdown left 66 percent of participants with greater feelings of stress or anxiety in various ways.
About 44 percent of girls said they had more caregiving responsibilities at home than before the pandemic, and 31 percent said those duties negatively affected their education, according to the report.
Roughly 30 percent of girls said they could not receive the educational support they needed, 12 percent said they didn’t have a safe place to live and 15 percent said they did not have access to a caring adult during the lockdown, the report said.
“For too long we have silenced the voices of women, girls and gender-expansive youth, and for too long we have relied on them to be on the frontlines in crisis … without ensuring they have the support they need to not only survive but thrive.”Emma Mayerson, Alliance for Girls
The findings rang true for the report’s analysts, many who are girls themselves. Alliance for Girls brought on 16- to 20-year-old members from their young women’s leadership board, made up of young women willing to share their experiences, to keep the advocacy work relevant.
Researcher and board member Uche Esomonu, for example, said she could relate to the participants’ reports of increased domestic chore responsibilities.
“Many of us could really relate to the concerns voiced in the survey responses. I believe that we are best poised to not only evaluate the data we are seeing but also brainstorm recommendations and help design support programs that could help alleviate some of the challenges that were expressed in the survey responses,” Esomonu said.
Emma Mayerson, founding executive director of Alliance for Girls, said the pandemic didn’t bring about new inequities, but worsened long-standing challenges for girls to succeed in an already fragile ecosystem.
“For too long we have silenced the voices of women, girls and gender-expansive youth, and for too long we have relied on them to be on the frontlines in crisis, caring for our young, old, and sick, and working twice as hard for less pay, all without ensuring they have the support they need to not only survive but thrive,” Mayerson said.
Young moms feel even greater impact
This has been especially the case for girls in vulnerable populations, like the pregnant and parenting teens that Sandra Flores, interim executive director of Teen Success, Inc., helps on a daily basis. Too often, these parents are overlooked by school districts in normal conditions, and it is important to address them to do better in the future, she said.
“We cannot over emphasize the isolation that our members experienced, adding to what was already happening, there was a tremendous social and emotional impact,” Flores said. “And if you were a young mom already dealing with post-partum, it was compounded.”
Kendra Edwards, data and evaluation manager for the organization MISSSEY Inc., which works to protect and care for sexually exploited youth, said that in order to have a safe community overall, the needs of Black girls and transgender girls need to be specifically addressed at a policy level. Based on her work, she has seen that sexual exploitation aligns with those who systemically lack adequate services or support.
“Girls are telling us that health and wellness for them is going to require access to safe spaces and supportive adults, and that health is relational, that safety is about belonging,” Edwards said. “And those definitions, those demands, need to be raised at policy levels because it’s often not how we even think about mental health or safety. Our girls are telling us that it needs to be.”
The report calls upon schools, policymakers and funders to center girls’ wellness when planning out services and support.
Oakland Unified School District school board director Aimee Eng was in attendance at the report’s news conference last week to discuss the findings, and said the district’s partnership has helped them respond and adapt to the needs of girls. For instance, Alliance for Girls revealed that girls in the district heavily relied on schools for period products in an initial survey during spring 2020, and the district added period products to their food distribution sites across the city.
“Thanks to this report we now have even more information to help inform how we can be implementing policies to ensure we are meeting the needs of girls, particularly girls of color and gender-expansive youth, during this time,” Eng said.