After the rapid assessment for a quick pulse check of the communities of STEM II participants, the project conducted a second round of assessment with a larger sample population to obtain a clearer idea of the situation at the field level. Entering the seventh week of the lockdown, this assessment was carried out with an objective to assess the impact of the elongated lockdown on the daily lives of STEM II girls – both in school and out of school girls – its psychosocial impact as well as to serve as a needs assessment to modify and adopt project activities accordingly.
With Risk Communication and Community Engagement activities in response to the first assessment, the second assessment specifically focused on psychosocial impact and safeguarding issues and to identify trends in responses or shifts of patterns to accommodate and execute project activities accordingly. The assessment was carried out via phone calls through social mobilizers in the six municipalities of the project working district of Kailali with 433 STEM participants.
The report includes key findings and activities that have already been executed to address the issues.
Despite the increasing number of COVID 19 cases in the country and initial surge starting from Kailali district, none of the STEM II girls have been affected by the virus. Majority of the girls are in good health and the fear of the outbreak has gradually shifted towards the growing impact of the lockdown in their daily lives and coping with it. More than 90% stated they were in good health condition with only 11 girls stating they had minor health issues such as headache, cold and gastritis.
Majority of the girls are adhering to the lockdown regulations imposed by the government while maintaining social distancing and other preventive measures to avoid the disease. The few times they go out of their houses is to work in their fields (80%) or to buy groceries at the nearby shops (50%). More than 90% of the girls are spending their time doing household chores while 56% of the In school girls are preparing for the SEE examinations.
Impact of Covid-19 and Lockdown:
Whether asked if the lockdown had impacted their lives, 83 % of the total girls said that the outbreak of the virus and the lockdown had impacted their lives in numerous ways.
- Food: 35.7 % girls said the lockdown had impacted their regular supply of food products. Further follow up revealed that essential food items were still accessible but the regular supply of food items was hindered while the scare of scarcity remained at large. Having said this, 11 girls responded that they had gone to bed with an empty stomach.
65 girls stated that they required the support of relief materials of basic needs for their day to day needs.
- Market: 57% of the total girls said that the lockdown had impacted the market where regular items were not available due to the close down of shops. The close down of the market has specifically impacted the Out of School Girls who have opened small businesses and enterprises through the Girls Transition Fund (GTF) loan. The close down of the market has halted their source of income while some of them are having difficulties to pay their loans. The project team has been working with the cooperatives to waive the loan amounts and its fines of the lockdown period. The team is also working with the division cooperative office to issue an official letter on relaxing the loans and fines during the lockdown period.
- Information and Awareness: Only 5.3% of the girls said there was a requirement of awareness and information support to create awareness among the community members on COVID 19 and its do’s and dont’s. But regular follow-up with the participants reveal lack of awareness on certain issues while rumors and stigma have posed as an obstacle to right information and knowledge, e.g. Girls were hesitant to buy vegetables that had been imported from India. With regular ongoing project awareness activities, an additional orientation will be provided to the Social Mobilizers and STEM participants on key health advisory tips and techniques. This will be then followed up to the project participants subsequently.
- Education: With the closedown of all the schools and the lockdown imposed just before the start of SEE exams, majority of the IS girls respondents consisting of grade 10 students readying for SEE exams have been highly impacted due to postponing of the exams. 50% of the IS girls have stated that the indefinite postponement of the SEE is one of the major factors contributing to psychological stress. 78.2% of the In School girls said that it had impacted their education with only 22% OOS girls stating it had impact on education.
- Health Services: Around 30% of the girls said that the lockdown had impacted regular health services. The threat of the outbreak and fear of contracting the disease is also a major concern while very few have shown concerns of coming in contact with people who have been affected with the disease. 41% of the girls stated that they required first aid kit items as support.
The psychosocial impact on the project participants till date is general psychological stress and concerns caused by the extended lockdown on health services, safety issues and other household activities. The psychological stress caused due to the impact of lockdown and threat of the outbreak has shown similar trends with the first assessment. Lack of social activities and regular facilities have impacted the daily lives of the people while girls have also expressed concern on safety risks during the lockdown period.
- Psychological Stress: Responses to psychological stress has shown similar trends with the first assessment (69%). In the second assessment, 56% of the girls said that they were coping with psychological stress during this period largely comprising concerns the uncertainty of the situation, the fear of the outbreak and lack of regular activities. Majority of the IS girls said their major concern was SEE exams rescheduling. Girls stated that the uncertainty of the rescheduling of the exams and losing a year was their major concern while lack of revisions and forgetting the syllabus added to the stress. Meanwhile, most of the Out of School girls who have started small businesses were worried about the loss of business due to the lockdown and were unable to pay loans regularly due to the loss of income as well as travel restrictions.
- Safety risks: The recent cases of sexual assault in Kailali district and lack of security during lockdown has raised issues of safety among some project participants wher. 12% of the respondents voiced safety concerns during lockdown. The team have not yet identified any strong evidence of safety concerns ar the household level such as gender based violence, physical abuse and sexual abuse in their homes. Regular follow-up calls also focus on identifying such cases if any and providing the needed information and counselling.In regard to GBV and other forms of harassment, an alarming number of girls – 65% – said they did not know where to contact in case of GBV, psychosocial distress or other similar issues. To address the issue, a round of follow up calls to the respondents and project participants were made to provide required information on where to contact in case of harassment, GBV or any kind of health related issues. Awareness activities of disseminating information through flyers and posters, both digital and hard copies, as well as through radio PSAs have been planned and carried out to reach a wider population.
- Household Chores: More than 90% of the girls stated that they spent their time doing household chores. About 30% of both the in school and out of school girls have said that there has been an increase in household chores compared to normal times.
- Hygiene and sanitation conditions have remained unchanged as the assessment indicates access to water, sanitation and hygiene is normal. More than 90% of the girls stated that WASH facilities in their respective areas remained the same where 7% of the girls have stated it has improved while only 3 % stated WASH conditions have degraded.
Key takeaways/ Way forward
The extended lockdown and the continued fear of the outbreak has evidently had an impact among project participants and school going students. The restrictions due to the lockdown, lack of daily regular activities and uncertainty of the situation has caused some level of psychological stress while the overall situation has increased susceptibility of risks of abuse, domestic violence and other forms of harassment. To address such issues, the project is highly focusing its activities to ensure the wellbeing of the project participants by regularly keeping-in-contact with them.
In this regard, the project staff and its implementing partners along with field monitors and social mobilizers have been oriented on the GEC guidelines of Keeping-in-Contact with girls and adhering to its policies. This has been followed up by psychological first aid training so as to provide the required counseling to the girls in need and be able to identify distress signals or any indications of psychological distress, depression and other stress factors and respond accordingly.
The study has also identified lack of awareness as one of the key factors that has negatively impacted the lives of the participants. It is vital to provide the right information and messages to cope and tackle the current situation as rumours, false information and lack of information thereof has also contributed towards increased stress.
The indefinite postponement of the SEE has been one of the major stress factors for the STEM girls. Awareness activities of taking care of oneself during lockdown has now shifted towards providing options of distance learning through various media – radio, digital platforms, online learning, etc. Similarly, the project is looking at similar options to provide vocational training to out of school girls while making efforts to minimize loan amounts and fines who have received the GTF loans.
With regular check-in calls and follow-up on the project participants, the project has also carried a similar assessment with school teachers, parents and guardians and government stakeholders to further develop plans and strategies to effectively run the project activities. The project is now in the process of conducting a third round of assessment that primarily focuses on accessibility to digital hardware to conduct distance learning. Building on the findings of the previous two assessments, the project will carry out the assessment among new respondents.