Investments in adolescent girls are critical, as experts point not only to their exposure to harm, but also the vital roles they can play in building healthier families and stronger communities. We at the IRC view adolescence as a critical time to establish the foundation for girls’ healthy transitions to adulthood. When girls have access to education, they are more likely to earn an income as adults.
In fact, a World Bank study of 100 countries suggests that increasing girls’ secondary education by 1% would increase annual per capita income by 0.3%. Research also indicates that education is an immediate protective factor for girls. If girls are in school, they are less likely to: engage in high-risk activities such as unsupervised work in informal markets; be sexually active; experience sexual coercion or unwanted pregnancies; and contract reproductive tract infections or HIV. And when adolescent girls are able to decide when to marry and have children, they are more likely to lead healthier, productive lives. Increasingly, the humanitarian community is recognizing the potential of adolescent girls, and there is a corresponding need for programs that empower girls.
GIRL EMPOWER is an innovative IRC program designed to equip girls with the skills and experiences necessary to make healthy, strategic life choices and to stay safe from abuse and sexual exploitation. GIRL EMPOWER responds not only to girls’ heightened exposure to harm in humanitarian and post-conflict settings, but also to the vital roles they can play in building healthier families and stronger communities. Research points to the strong correlations between girls’ education and their economic and physical security.
GIRL EMPOWER will add to the existing knowledge base through a holistic approach. The IRC will address key aspects of girls’ lives, including their social capital, access to education, financial literacy, role models, and the attitudes of family members. Economic empowerment programming, alone, may actually increase adolescent girls’ risk of sexual exploitation and transactional sex. GIRL EMPOWER is unique in approach, because it addresses all the different aspects of girls’ lives, ensures that the whole girl is supported, and focuses interventions on building the assets of adolescent girls.
The IRC is piloting GIRL EMPOWER in Ethiopia and Liberia. GIRL EMPOWER will achieve the following results:
- Build Girls’ Economic Skills: Girls will develop and attain their financial goals and aspirations.
- Build Girls’ Social Capital: Girls will increase their self-confidence and realize their social capital, enabling them to be self-reliant and also know where to turn and how to ask for support.
- Develop Safe and Supportive Households: Family members will prioritize the education and well-being of girls in their family.
- Give Access to Quality Health and Psychosocial Care: Girls in target communities who have suffered abuse and sexual exploitation will have access to quality services that meet their specific needs as adolescents.
In both Liberia and Ethiopia, GIRL EMPOWER will involve three cycles of programming, which are 12 months in length each. Research findings from the pilot will inform scale-up and dissemination efforts. At the end of three years, the IRC will share findings with relevant stakeholders to replicate best practices, shape policy, and drive further innovation.