What impacts have COVID-19 had on your life or on other girls you know?
Since COVID-19 ‘officially’ hit in B.C., everything in my day-to-day life changed. I left my home in East Van at the beginning of the shut-down, as one of my roommates had been in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. Fortunately, I was able to stay with my mother in her 1 bedroom apartment for the majority of the shut-down -- not all young women in Vancouver have this option. Although I have safe places to shelter, due to the number of people in those spaces, it has been virtually impossible to social distance. I have also been on the look-out for a place of my own, and just about every place within my budget has been far out of the city, in an inaccessible area, or has been a scam. The pre-existing housing crisis in Vancouver has been exacerbated in this pandemic.
I am concerned knowing that during the COVID-19 shut down, access to healthcare and reproductive health has been seriously limited. When I was a teenager, I was already very reluctant and distrusting when accessing health resources. I can only imagine how barriers to accessing health care for girls have grown exponentially. I know that many girls have been forced to quarantine with their boyfriends/partners and fear an unwanted pregnancy. Without access to reproductive and sexual health, I fear that teen pregnancy, the spread of STDs and increased sexual assaults are yet another effect of this epidemic.
How has going to school changed for you? What challenges have distance learning presented?
I had to finish my college semester online, including my final papers, group project and exams. I went from attending lectures and having access to the Langara library/campus daily to working completely from my mom’s couch. I was considering taking some summer courses, but learning strictly online is not the most compatible way for me. I learn best when the curriculum is taught a variety of different ways, and I benefit most from stimulating discussions in lectures/groups. I was able to pass the semester, and thankfully all my professors were very understanding, but it was with great difficulty. Distance learning has made it difficult for me to stay engaged, to focus, to manage my time and I feel like I am missing out on the discussions and lectures. The lack of separation between work, school, and home makes it extremely difficult for me to be productive. It looks like my classes will continue to remain online in the fall, which is another challenge I’m going to have to deal with.
Many other girls and young women also lack adequate access to technology and this has posed many educational challenges during this time. One young woman in my group project didn’t have a functional laptop, making it almost impossible for her to work on the assignment. I have heard other young women express how difficult it is to ensure everyone in their home has access to the internet to do their school work.
What is your opinion on the environmental effects of COVID-19?
With the world seemingly on ‘pause,’ the planet has been given a chance to breathe. It shows us what is really important in life: shelter, food, clean water, human connection. I feel as though the world should never return back to “normal.” This is a key moment in history; as businesses and public spaces reopen, we must reconsider the way we live. The positive impacts on the environment have been astonishing, and only confirm and validate the science about climate change. We have been given a glimpse at what a less polluted world can be. We need to recreate our society in a way that drastically reduces emissions, and rebuild a world that is much more sustainable. Global climate change is a threat to the survival of children, cultures and future generations. Climate change is an urgent human rights matter that disproportionately impacts girls – especially Indigenous girls and girls in the global south and Arctic regions – threatening their rights to life, security, health and numerous other social, economic, and cultural rights.
Unfortunately, in B.C., they have ignored the calls to halt all construction of the pipeline. They have continued with construction, filling the ‘man-camps’ with workers from out of the area, literally threatening to bring the virus to isolated first nations communities, (similar to when colonizers brought smallpox with them). It is extremely upsetting, but not surprising, to know that our governments value profit over human lives, and the future of the entire planet. As we move forward, we must look to Indigenous leaders, as well as young women leaders, who have been on the front lines of the environmental movement. We must put the needs of people and the environment before profit. We must consume less and live simpler lives if we want a future as a species on Earth.
Have you noticed any particular social media trends regarding young women and girls since COVID-19?
One that has really stood out to me is the pressure to remain extremely productive and take ‘advantage’ of this global epidemic. The reality is, most people aren’t in a privileged enough position to be able to be extremely productive, and they’re actually at a huge disadvantage during this time. One particular trend is for girls to get a ‘quarantine body,’ or get ‘fit’. Personally, I already feel immense pressure to look a certain way as a young woman. Everyday on social media I am bombarded with fitness challenges, before and after photos, ads for plastic surgery, gym clothes and accessories, crazy diets and cleanses, diet pills and supplements and most importantly, heavily retouched, photoshopped images of women. Due to less activity, added stress and sometimes just boredom of being quarantined, many, like myself, have gained some weight since COVID-19. This is a completely normal and perfectly fine symptom of living in the highly stressful, unique time of COVID-19. I find myself harshly criticizing and comparing my body, feeling like I have wasted this time or feeling poorly because I’m not being my usual productive self. This trend was already dangerous for girls, but like everything else, is worsened due to this epidemic. It is no surprise many people’s mental health is in a precarious state at the moment, especially teenage girls living in poverty, in government care or experiencing violence.
How has your overall stress level been since COVID-19? How are you coping?
My stress level has increased since covid-19. I have definitely found it difficult to not lean on unhealthy coping mechanisms; such as overeating, oversleeping, excessive drinking and smoking. I am generally a very busy, active and social person with school and work, so I have been restless for the last three months. Going on long walks alone in nature has been a life saver, and I’ve been working since the shut-down, which I am grateful for. Working (even though it’s not the same remotely) gives me a purpose and a reason to wake up every morning and continue to look forward, look for hope and fight for equality.
Is there anything you would like your government or community leaders to know?
Girl specific supports and resources must be made available. There is a serious lack of girl-only emergency housing in the entire province. It is heartbreaking to receive a call from a teenage girl and have nowhere safe to send them. With increased violence, and girls being the most vulnerable to violence, we need sexual assault services tailored to their specific needs (which also don’t exist in Vancouver). Housing and safety are inextricably linked, the right to adequate housing and freedom from violence are human rights (that Canada supposedly upholds).