Author - Temko Dorris Kirui, Global Engagement and Evaluation Intern
It cannot be denied that girls make up a critical demography for social change as well as global development. Girls represent a huge underserved population especially in the developing world. It is estimated that those under the age of 25 make up 43 per cent of the world’s population and 60 per cent reside in the least developed countries. Currently, the cohort of adolescent girls is the largest in human history and this number is expected to rise in the next few decades. However, adolescent girls tend not to be included in many developments programs. Many of these adolescent girls face vulnerability, which includes lacking family and community support, limited economic opportunities, not having a voice, as well as unfavourable social attitudes. As a result, their economic and social empowerment is constrained thus leading to risky behaviours at times. Despite this, working with and for these adolescent girls should be perceived as a human right and critical for development. A recent multi-country analysis states that closing the gender gap especially during the adolescent period in areas of education, economic activity and health would have significant impact on the national economic growth and the well-being of girls.
Across the globe, especially in the developing world, women and girls continue to bear the brunt of poverty. However, it is possible to take effective and practical action, which will enable women and girls to reach their full potential. Moreover, we should be aware that investing in women and girls does not only transform their lives but also communities, societies and economies. Empowering girls and women has multiple effects for economic growth and the achievement of other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By reaching girls, in particular, at an early stage, we can transform their life chances. Empowering girls to take greater control over the decisions that affect their lives helps to break the cycle of poverty.
What is economic empowerment?
While there is no clear definition of girls’ economic empowerment, we can use the definition for women’s economic empowerment. Replacing the word ‘women’ for ‘girls’ and taking the definition by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), we can say that the economic empowerment of girls is “The capacity for girls to participate in, contribute to and benefit from growth processes in ways that recognise the value of their contribution, respect their dignity and make it possible to negotiate a fairer distribution of the benefits growth”. Economic empowerment of girls is not only about providing them with resources but also opportunities in which they can apply these resources and achieve economic success. By providing better jobs, developing practical skills and education opportunities, facilitating greater land access and allowing greater participation in decision-making, women and girls can lift themselves from poverty as well as improve the quality of life of their families and communities at large.
Why does economic empowerment for girls matter?
A research conducted by the Adolescent Girls Advocacy and Leadership Initiative (AGALI) reveals that 600 million girls around the globe face widespread poverty and limited access to education, health services as well as discrimination and violence. As compared to adult women or adolescent boys, adolescent girls tend to be the most economically vulnerable. In many places, adolescent girls lack access to the available financial capital, education, knowledge as well as the skills, which can lead to their economic advancement. Moreover, adolescent girls often have no social support while the social norms of the communities can hinder their economic advancement. Therefore, economic empowerment can be a crucial lever for change in the lives of adolescent girls by helping them to gain their financial independence, develop good saving habits and improve their future chances of participating in the labour force. In addition, it can provide these girls with mobility, boost their confidence, strengthen their social ties and improve the outcome of their personal health.
According to discussion points by the Women Refugee Commission (WRC), there is evidence that the economic empowerment of girls can reduce their risk of gender based violence (GBV) which is often associated with them being economically deprived. By owning economic assets, girls are empowered and given greater agency, reducing GBV by increasing their bargaining power. Ownership of assets by women and girls gives them the power to make some decisions in the household, reduces malnutrition among their children and gives them the freedom to leave situations of domestic violence. Financial education or the accumulation of assets by girls has also been shown to improve school attendance and reduce sexual behaviour, which is associated with the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
Furthermore, economic empowerment of young girls is a prerequisite for achieving sustainable development, pro-poor growth and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). When young girls are empowered, they act as catalysts for development. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) incepted in 2000 have helped lift many people out of poverty. The inclusion of MDG 3, which focused on gender equality and empowerment, has been crucial in the recognition of gender equality as a prerequisite for development. However, while we acknowledge that the MDGs have had an impact on the lives of young girls and women, we can also point out the gaps that need to be filled in the post-2015 agenda. This conversation is very important as we set out the Sustainable Development Goals to guide governments for the next fifteen years. One vital omission from the MDGs was the particular needs for girls and young women. Although goal number 3 addressed the issue of gender parity, it did not seek to focus on the systematic discrimination that girls and young women face daily. Yet it can be stated that girls are the key to meeting the promise of development goals. Providing girls and young women with a better future is not only a goal in itself but a way of improving communities and families. The inclusion of the needs and priorities of young girls and women in the post 2015 agenda will mean ensuring the human rights of the new generation and generations thereafter. In addition, it will harness a development asset that is yet untapped.
Among the proposed SDGs is goal number 5, which focuses on achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. While this is an important target, there is evidence that the empowerment of women and young girls is an essential step towards the achievement of other SDGs as well. crucial step towards the achievement of other goals. With the SDGs set, it is our hope that governments and donors will be ambitious enough to set targets that capture the many angles of women and girls empowerment, including greater economic opportunities and political representation, if the goal is to be achieved.
This blog is the sixth in a series of summer blog articles related to the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals and are authored by youth interns at Child & Youth Finance International. Join the discussion on social media by following @ChildFinance and using the hashtag #cyfiyouth.