COVID-19, and the measures taken by governments worldwide to prevent its further spread, have a major impact on the lives of the girls and their families we work for. Now schools have been closed almost everywhere and meetings and travel are forbidden, can we still carry out our programme and are we still able to work towards our goal using our six programme strategies? What about, for example, the third strategy: the access to youth-friendly SRHR services for girls during lockdown?
In the communities where Her Choice operates, girls and women are already in a vulnerable position, but now, in addition to the health risk of COVID-19, they are at great risk of becoming victims of poverty, which is rapidly worsening as a result of the crisis, and increasing domestic violence. Therefore, all ten Her Choice countries have developed an adapted plan for the Her Choice programme. These plans are based upon the recommendations from Girls Not Brides. In the adapted plan, Her Choice will focus on activities that strengthen the safety and well-being of our target group, while continuing to use the six programme strategies. This approach enables Her Choice to continue to contribute to the programme results.
Although the uptake of services and information about Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) at health posts is challenging in lockdown periods, it is important that they are still available and accessible for young people to keep on providing services and information about SRHR to young people (strategy 3). To be able to do this in a safe way, Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) like face masks and hygienic soap is provided to all health workers working in the health centers in the Her Choice working areas.
And, of course, initiatives are being promoted to identify those who may have already been infected in order to provide them with required medical assistance and ensure their isolation. Health staff also developed promotional materials like posters in the local language to provide information on mode of transmission and prevention measures.
Whenever possible, simple and cost-effective hand washing techniques are being demonstrated and installed by the health centers. In Benin 1200 ‘Tippy Taps’ were being installed. Miet Chielens, coordinator of Her Choice at The Hunger Project Nederland, tells us: ‘A tippy tap is a plastic barrel that people can use to wash their hands in a hygienic way. Besides installing the Tippy Taps, The Hunger Project Benin also sensitized the communities on how to wash their hands in a hygienic way and informed them about other measures to prevent the disease, like wearing a face mask.’
The most important thing now, says Odilia van Manen, Her Choice’s programme manager, is that the health centres remain open to both boys and girls: ‘Everywhere, we see the concern about an increase in domestic violence, FGM and child marriages. That’s why it’s now very important that young people continue to have access to services and information about their SRHR’.
 Research has taught us that the number of child marriages increases explosively in times of crisis and pandemics. We are therefore concerned about the consequences of this crisis on the wellbeing of our main target group: girls and women.
 Girls not Brides has developed a brief on child marriage and COVID-19 for all their development partners, including civil society and governments. It provides insights, recommendations and resources for responding to the needs of adolescent girls during and after this crisis, including those at risk of early marriage, married girls, and those in informal unions.