Currently, there are more 600 million girls ages 10-24 worldwide, with the population growing fastest in developing countries. During adolescence, health and social behaviors are established for life; the decisions a girl makes during this period and the situations she faces will have long-term consequences for her sexual and reproductive health and a range of other outcomes.
Gender norms and roles tend to expand and solidify during adolescence. This leads, in many places around the world, to restrictions on girls’ movement, agency, access to information and services, and decision-making ability for their future. Vulnerability also increases, with girls and young women disproportionately affected by gender-based violence, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancy, unsafe abortions, as well as early and forced marriage. Adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death during pregnancy and childbirth than those even just a few years older. Maternal complications are a leading cause of death for adolescent girls worldwide, as are complications from HIV and AIDS, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
At the same time, girls can be powerful advocates, leaders, and contributors to their own communities and countries, but they must be given the agency to do so. By intervening to counter risks that exist and by promoting positive relationships and behaviors for girls, we are investing in the women and leaders of our future. Programs that aim to expand access to education, reduce poverty, and promote gender equality must identify and dismantle barriers facing adolescent girls worldwide if they hope to be successful.
This literature review examines the motivations for, and implications of, engaging girls in the programs, projects, campaigns, and research that affect their lives. It offers a working definition of “meaningful engagement” and provides examples of engagement strategies in various organizational and geographical contexts (2014).
To protect and empower girls, programs must start with the girls themselves. This approach – one that meets girls where they are in their lives – was the foundation for an innovative participatory action research pilot project, which aimed to both understand and respond to girls’ HIV-related vulnerabilities. Working with older girls ages 12-17 and their communities in Newala District, one of the least developed and poorly resourced districts of Tanzania, the project's ultimate goal was to design and qualitatively assess a pilot intervention model to address the most pressing vulnerabilities of adolescent girls. This brief report summarizes the process and findings of the participatory action research with lessons for researchers, development practitioners and policymakers working with adolescent girls (2011).
This paper is a review of the evidence on multi-sectoral interventions to reduce violence against adolescent girls. Its objective is to provide an overview of programming aimed at girls in developing countries and to assess their effectiveness (2013).
This resource guide provides information on how the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) sectors, missions, and staff can integrate child, early, and forced marriage (CEFM) prevention and response into their programming. The guide provides both the rationale of why and approaches to how USAID's efforts can address CEFM (2015).
The International Center for Research on Women’s report, “More Power to Her: How Empowering Girls Can Help End Child Marriage", shows how and why investing in girls is critical to the global movement to end child marriage. The practice, which cuts across global cultures and religions, turns more than 14 million girls worldwide into child brides every year, violating their basic human rights – and hindering larger international development efforts (2014).
The explosion of programs aimed at improving adolescent girls' health in the developing world in recent years has almost certainly been beneficial, but do we really know how girls are faring in the wake of these various interventions? Good intentions are needed, but they do not always result in improved outcomes. The time is right to assess the impact of girl-focused programs. Through a structured, in-depth literature review, the authors of this paper on low and middle-income countries shed light on what we have learned and what we still need to learn (2013).
The field of research and programs for adolescent girls has traditionally focused on sexuality, reproductive health, and behavior, neglecting the broader social and economic issues that underpin adolescent girls’ human rights, overall development, health, and well-being. Further, efforts to improve girls’ lives often spotlight those who control or influence their lives—parents, in-laws, boys, men, perpetrators—overlooking girls themselves (2012).
We need to invest in girls to build their key protective assets. But in order to make these investments, we must “see” these girls. Current youth policies and the data that accompany them block our view of these girls and treat young people as a homogenous group. But the skills and experiences of young people, even in the same community, can vary considerably. By not recognizing how adolescent capacities and opportunities vary by subgroup, these policies have often failed to direct resources to vulnerable and hard-to-reach adolescents (2012).
The sixth report in Plan’s annual State of the World’s Girls series, Learning for Life, takes a critical look at the state of girls’ education. The report argues that behind the success of global parity in primary education enrollment figures lies a crisis in the quality of learning. Enrollment figures measure attendance on one day of the school year, and they are currently the only measure of success. They tell us nothing about real access to education or the quality of what is being taught or learned (2012).
As part of the Nike Foundation’s global initiative to empower adolescent girls, Microfinance Opportunities and three grantee organizations together designed and tested an innovative programming model that combines financial education, savings, and social support. This report provides an overview of these programs, including information on how they evolved and a synthesis of some of the key lessons learned about this approach to building assets for adolescent girls in low-income settings (2011).
This call to action resulted from a two-part consultation held by the Coalition of Adolescent Girls. During emergencies, adolescent girls face heightened risk of personal safety violations and human rights abuses. They may forego meals, engage in unsafe livelihoods, assume disproportionate levels of domestic burden, or marry early to relieve their families’ financial responsibilities. Although they are integral to their families’ survival and face harsh realities, humanitarian responses — as currently designed — typically neglect them as a population (2013).
As 2015 comes to a close, so do the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In their wake is a new plan for the next 15 years: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, or the 2030 Agenda. ICRW's policy brief analyzes how the 2030 Agenda includes the unique needs and priorities of adolescent girls and examines the critical role girls have to play in the development of their communities worldwide (2015).
Adolescent girls face poorer health outcomes than boys, are more likely to become infected with HIV, are more socially isolated, are less likely to make the transition to secondary school or to complete it, and have fewer income-generating opportunities. Logic might have it, then, that a lot of effort in these arenas is being made to reach these adolescent girls, but unfortunately, that is not the case. Typically, what is available are general youth programs that are meant to include adolescent girls, but in reality do not (2010).
This review contains findings from 455 intervention evaluations in 90 countries. The document contains approximately 2,000 programming references for prevention, treatment, care, and support, as well as information related to strengthening the policy environment. The review focuses on HIV interventions for women and girls and documents evidence-based best practices (2010).
This paper provides an overview of international trends in child marriage and adolescent pregnancy. It draws from four country case studies to provide evidence of the nature the relationships between child marriage, adolescent pregnancy, and schooling. The author concludes with policy and program recommendations for addressing early marriage and adolescent pregnancy (2015).
This report illuminates the experiences of girls who relocate to urban areas to pursue work, education, and social opportunities unavailable to them in their natal homes. The report explores how migrant girls who successfully connect to urban resources and opportunities can be powerful agents of change, making them an important group for policy and programmatic attention. Girls on the Move is the first report of its kind to examine the social and economic drivers of internal migration for adolescent girls in developing countries, and the links between migration, risk, and opportunity. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the report finds that rural-to-urban migration can -- provided necessary safety nets and resources are in place -- be largely a positive experience for girls, and present them with new opportunities unavailable in their hometowns (2013).