The Girl Effect is a movement driven by girl champions around the globe. The Nike Foundation created the Girl Effect with critical financial and intellectual contributions by the NoVo Foundation and Nike Inc. and in collaboration with key partners such as the United Nations Foundation and the Coalition for Adolescent Girls.
Other girl champions include the International Center for Research on Women, the Population Council, CARE, the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood, the Center for Global Development, Plan, and the Girl Hub.
To date, little research has been done to understand how investing in young girls impacts economic growth and the health and well-being of communities; however, existing research suggests that the investing in young girls will prevent poverty before it starts. According to The Girl Effect Data:
- One in seven girls in developing countries marries before age 15, and 38 percent marry before age 18.
- A young girl in the developing world who receives seven or more years of education will marry four years later and have 2.2 fewer children.
- Worldwide, medical complications from pregnancy are the leading cause of death among girls ages 15 to 19. Compared to women ages 20 to 24, girls ages 10 to 14 are five times more likely to die from child birth, and girls ages 15 to 19 are twice as likely.
- 70% of the world’s 130 million out-of school youth are girls.
- An extra year of primary school boosts a young girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent, while an extra year of secondary school equates to a 15 to 25 percent increase in eventual wages.
The World Bank recently released a working paper entitled, “The Girl Effect Dividend ,” which established just how powerful young girls are in today’s global society. For example, in Brazil, if employment of young women was equal to employment of young men, Brazil would add $23 billion (US) to its annual GDP. In Kenya, the report found that if all 1.6 million adolescent girls completed secondary school, and if all adolescent mothers were employed, the cumulative effect could have added $3.4 billion to Kenya’s gross income every year. If young girls in Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal and Uganda had been able to complete primary school, “their additional output over their lifetimes would be equivalent to 20%, 18%, 14%, and 13% of annual GDP”; and if their sisters had completed secondary school, they would have contributed “48%, 32%, 24%, and 34% (of annual GDP) more to their economies over their lifetimes, equivalent to an increase in annual GDP growth rates by approximately 0.5% to 1% annually for the next 45 years.”
Girls are the invisible infrastructure of poverty. While her brothers go to school, ask 13-24 year girls in the developing world why they’re not in education and 33 percent say it’s because of household chores. Pregnancy is the leading cause of death among girls aged 15 to 19. There are slated to be 100 million child brides by 2020. Seventy-five percent of 15-24 year olds in sub-Saharan Africa living with HIV are girls.
When we get to girls in early adolescence – before they are married, pregnant, and HIV-positive – we invest in a solution for poverty, not a cure for its symptoms. Girls are the future mothers of every child born into poverty. Girls are integral to our food security, global health, peace and stability, economic growth – the whole gamut of investments, not just education.
In 2009, The Coalition for Adolescent Girls released “A Global Investment and Action Agenda,” which described: (i) why and how to put girls at the center of development; (ii) how the health of economies and families depends on protecting the rights of and fostering opportunities for today’s girls; and (iii) how far girls in many developing countries have come—but how far we remain from a world in which girls’ rights are respected. Specifically, the report made the following key findings:
The well-being of girls matters first and foremost because girls are individuals with inalienable rights, but also because the well-being of young girls is vital to a thriving society. The current global household economy depends largely on the unpaid/invisible contributions of women (e.g., carrying water, tending to crops or livestock, caring for children, and other household chores); as technological advancements influence global infrastructure and development, women will see reduced labor and agriculture demands, leaving more time for educational, governance, and political pursuits. “The health and educational achievement of future generations is directly related to the physical and intellectual condition of today’s girls and young women, who will bear and prepare the children of the next decade.”
We Are Failing Our Young Girls
Generally, girls in developing countries have less education, experience decreased overall health, have fewer rights that their male counterparts, and face “systematic disadvantages over a wide range of welfare indicators, including health, education, nutrition, labor force participation, and the burden of household tasks.” Moreover, many young girls are forced to marry and give birth at a very young age, making them more susceptible to HIV infection, sexual and physical violence, and early death (during pregnancy).
Governments Must Take Action
“National and local governments have primary responsibility to protect, promote, and fulfill the rights of all citizens.” In order to improve prospects for young girls, local and national governments must ensure:
Equal Protection and Equal Access
Governments must enforce existing laws and policies (both national and local) which seek to protect young women and girls, and identify and eliminate laws and policies that inherently discriminate against young women and girls. The birth of every girl and boy should be recorded, and every child should be issued a birth certificate. Legal (or defacto) restrictions which prevent pregnant, married, and/or young mothers from enrolling in school must be eliminated, as well as limits on access to reproductive health information.
Additionally, women and young girls must have equal access to all social programs, including health services, all levels of education, youth services, recreational activities, and peer-to-peer programs. Data should be collected to determine who is presently benefiting from such services, and benchmarks should be set to ensure that underrepresented groups obtain greater access.
Employment and Public Works Opportunities for Women
In most countries, governments provide unskilled manual laborers with short-term employment opportunities (often in construction, maintenance, irrigation infrastructure, reforestation, and soil conservation), and sometimes even long term-employment. Governments must actively seek to develop similar initiatives for female workers in order to provide equal hiring and pay opportunities.
Community Organizations and Private Donors Must Get Involved
The report suggests that official and private donors, as well as multilateral agencies of the U.N., should not only support the aforementioned initiatives, but also focus on developing HIV/AIDS programs for girls, and support post-primary education programs.
HIV/AIDS Programs Must Focus on Prevention and Young Girls
Young women and girls are increasingly affected by HIV/AIDS, yet most HIV/AIDS programs do not focus on girls or prevention. International HIV/AIDS prevention programs must develop and implement strategies to reduce the new infection rate amongst young women and girls, and measure the success of these strategies against this specific infection rate.
Encourage and Support Post-Primary Education
Most education initiatives focus on primary education, however, “this approach has been insufficient both for the girls themselves and for attaining the social benefits of education. Research has shown that parents often discourage girls who are at or near puberty to drop out of school in order to preserve their reputation and marriage prospects; and therefore, donors must focus their initiatives on: (i) improving the quality of primary and secondary education; (ii) encouraging secondary education to all young girls; (iii) investing in girls who are at or near puberty and are at the greatest risk of dropping out; and (iv) removing the social barriers that prevent young girls from transitioning from primary to secondary education.
Private Corporations Must Take Action
Since agriculture and informal sectors dominate the economic activities of developing countries, the opportunities for private and multinational corporations to influence economic opportunities for women is limited; however, corporations (both private and multinational) have a social responsibility to invest in young girls and to contribute to their well-being. Private corporations must act responsibly, and implement fair hiring and pay policies to ensure that individuals are hired without regard to gender, marital status, or pregnancy, and also that women are paid equally and receive the same employment benefits. Since large multinational corporations have the resources and ability to invest in local schools, they should provide scholarships, build schools, invest in distance learning technologies, and enhance teacher training opportunities. Additionally, private employers should provide young female employees with resources and services to build their personal assets. For example, an employer could institute a private onsite savings account for young women who otherwise could not open a bank account without the permission of a male family member.
Civil Society Organizations Must Get Involved
Advocate For Changes in Social Attitudes and Norms
Civil society organizations can dramatically influence social attitudes and social norms simply by implementing community sensitivity and social marketing campaigns. At the same time, these organizations must advocate for changes in laws and policies to reflect the changing social attitudes and norms.
Develop Informal Education Opportunities & Create Safe Places for Girls
The majority of out-of-school girls come from “socially excluded populations,” and civil organizations are the most effective tool for reaching these girls. These organizations should seek to implement school-to-work programs which provide incentives to private sector business to work with schools to transition female graduates into the workforce. Private employers should also invest in professional training centers where young women can get involved in apprenticeships and skill building courses, as well as enroll in financial literacy and life skills programs. Young women must also have access to mentors and supportive social networks in order to thrive. Civil society organizations should look to establish safe places where girls can congregate, take educational classes (HIV/AIDS training, financial literacy, sexual violence, etc.), and support one another.
Girls are unique change agents. Igniting her potential and transforming her world starts a ripple effect of change – for herself, her family, and her community… Investing in girls is smart economics.”