COVID-19’s untold stories are the ones you need to hear. Here’s how we helped 16 girls share theirs

8 October 2020

Every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence.
More than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday, and over 130 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM).

COVID-19 has made 2020 a difficult year for everyone. But for millions of teenage girls across the world, the pandemic was just another worry to add to their already long list: gender-based violence, child marriage, a lack of education to name a few. In fact, statistics show that gender-based violence and harmful practices soar during emergencies. Many girls kept from school during lockdown will never return, their childhood stolen by child marriage or pregnancy.

That’s why, when the COVID-19 pandemic triggered lockdowns around the world, Rooftop and UNICEF asked 16 teenage girls from nine countries to share their lives through the lens of their mobile phones.

The initial idea was to record the girls’ experiences during COVID-19, using a globally relevant topic to create a personal connection between these girls and a global audience. For five weeks between May and June 2020, the girls captured their ‘new normal’ and shared their thoughts – not just on COVID-19, but on all the heart-breaking challenges they face daily.

The result? A raw, emotional video series capturing the reality of being a young girl in a developing country during an unprecedented global pandemic.

Like many teenagers, Antsa, from Madagascar, missed her friends during lockdown. But she is grateful that she still has a chance to study – some of her girlfriends were forced to drop out in sixth grade to help their parents at home, whilst their brothers went on to university.

In Chad, Laetitia’s school has been closed for months like many others across the world. But her biggest concern is fighting for her friend to be allowed back into education after she was subjected to sexual violence by a teacher.

Sangamithra, from India, is concerned about the impact of COVID on her country. But she worries more about what a prolonged period of time away from school could mean for other young women – summer holidays are often the time that girls are often forced into arranged marriages.

Filming all the videos themselves, the girls speak candidly in a way that wouldn’t have happened with a film crew and cameras – and it seems our global audience was as touched by the girls’ stories as we were. Halfway through the campaign, the site had 232,000 web visits, an unprecedented figure for UNICEF. The web page for the series also made it into the COVID-19 Facebook portal, generating 120,000 visits with an average of 30 minutes on the page, meaning that most viewers stayed to watch more than one video each time. The series is going to air on national TV in Madagascar, and UNICEF team in Niger will be using the series for national advocacy.

We loved working on this project with UNICEF for several reasons. We’re proud that we were able to continue to produce unique content under unprecedented circumstances. And sure, we’re pleased that the series made such an impact with the general public. But more than anything, we count ourselves lucky to have had the opportunity to work with these inspiring young women. The success of this project is really thanks to them: using their voices, sharing their stories and fighting for the future they deserve.

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Max Terzini

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