Adolescent girls in Zambia face a range of risks and vulnerabilities that challenge their healthy development from girls into young women, and they often lack the social, health, and economic assets that are necessary to mitigate these risks. The issues that confront vulnerable girls — high rates of gender-based violence, unsafe sex that puts girls at risk for unwanted pregnancies and HIV infections, school dropout, lack of economic resources and income-generating options, and lack of agency and participation — are interdependent and have similar causes. The situation is a challenging one for adolescent girls in Zambia. Across a wide range of issues—education, social support, safety, and sexual and reproductive health—girls are at a greater disadvantage compared to their male peers. The vulnerabilities confronting Zambian adolescent girls formed the basis for designing the Adolescent Girls Empowerment Programme
(AGEP), which a) focused on adolescent girls aged 10–19, b) delivered community-based interventions and c) selected participants for the programme with the direct intention of capturing those girls who were the most vulnerable. AGEP was rolled out in 10 sites in four provinces in Zambia, five sites in urban areas, and five sites in rural areas, and aimed to reach 1,000 girls per site, for a total of 10,000 girls in the programme.
The theory of change behind AGEP posited that adolescent girls are empowered by building their social, health, and economic assets that they can then draw on to reduce vulnerabilities and expand opportunities. In the long term, they will then increase their likelihood of completing school, delaying sexual debut, and reducing risks of early marriages, unintended pregnancies, acquisition of HIV, and other possibly detrimental outcomes.