Gender-Based Violence Among Adolescent Girls and Young Women: A Neglected Consequence of the West African Ebola Outbreak
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During the 2013-2015 Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in West Africa, response efforts focused on containing the disease and reducing the number of new cases to zero. While this focus was important, protocols were never established to protect adolescent girls and young women during the outbreak. As quarantines and school closures were put in place to contain the spread of disease, women and adolescent girls were vulnerable to coercion, exploitation, and sexual abuse, some of which resulted in unwanted pregnancies. Young women and adolescent girls were also unable to attend community meetings where education and instructions were given about how to protect themselves from contracting the disease. While the number of Ebola-infected patients and deaths were recorded accurately, victims of violence during the outbreak went uncounted, unrecognized, and unattended. Gender was overlooked during the response, leaving young girls highly vulnerable. Future response must ensure equitable health systems and consider sexual and reproductive health services as essential during response. The creation of safe spaces and empowering teenage girls with information and support is important. Safe spaces can provide adolescent girls with security, livelihood skills, psychosocial counselling for gender-based violence, and access to sexual and reproductive health information and referral services.
KeywordsAdolescent girls Young women Ebola Sierra Leone Liberia West Africa Gender-based violence Sexual violence Rape Teenage pregnancy Exploitation Pregnancy Ebola virus disease War Conflict Reproductive health Schools
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