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Let Girls Lead

August 01, 2013

Like most girls in war-torn Liberia, 19 year old Oretha Yeagan has lived through more than her share of poverty and violence, dropping out of school in sixth grade when her mother couldn’t pay her school fees. But Oretha was lucky – she went to live in a safe home in Monrovia run by THINK, a Liberia-based NGO focusing on the rights and wellbeing of women and girls. There, she learned tailoring, finished school and now has plans to continue studying and become a computer analyst.

The Adolescent Girls’ Advocacy & Leadership Initiative (AGALI) of the Public Health Institute has worked with THINK and other partners in Africa and Latin America to improve the lives of over 1 million girls like Oretha. AGALI recently launched a global report on girls’ economic empowerment that highlights recommendations for policymakers, funders, and practitioners. 

The Adolescent Girls' Economic Empowerment Report  demonstrates that economic empowerment initiatives can be critical levers for change in adolescent girls’ lives, helping them to gain financial independence, establish good saving habits, and improve their future employment prospects.

What does economic empowerment look like? An economically empowered girl has:

  1. The ability to advance economically – girls need skills to compete in markets, plus access to savings accounts and other banking services.
  2. The power to act on economic decisions – girls need to have control over their resources and profits to fully benefit from their economic activities.

For example, if Oretha sells a dress she has sewn after learning tailoring skills, she is only economically empowered if she has control over the money she earns. Rather than being forced to hand her earnings over to her husband or father, Oretha must be the one to decide whether to buy more fabric, pay for school fees, or contribute to family expenses. To be economically empowered, Oretha needs both the skills to earn money, and the decision-making power over how she uses her income.

AGALI’s research shows that well-designed economic empowerment programs can help girls develop their financial skills, build technical capacity, and get good jobs. And although adolescent girls most often enter the workforce to support their families, studies show that jobs can provide girls with greater say over their lives and decisions, and the opportunity to develop their own friendships and social networks through employment. Therefore, safe and appropriate jobs can strengthen girls’ economic and social status, while improving their future job prospects.

Beyond helping girls, economic empowerment can contribute to their families’ prosperity and their communities’ economic growth. For example, a girl who has economically valuable skills can earn additional income that helps ease her family’s financial burden, rather than being one more mouth to feed. Research also shows that women and girls invest more of their income into their families, compared to boys and men, strengthening the argument for investing in adolescent girls’ economic empowerment.

AGALI’s report demonstrates that economic empowerment can help girls like Oretha lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty. Yet despite the clear benefits of girls’ economic empowerment, less than two cents of every development dollar goes to programs targeting adolescent girls. In her local Liberian dialect, Oretha’s name means “Everything has a time.” The time to invest in girls’ economic empowerment is now.

AGALI’s research serves as the foundation for Let Girls Lead , a new global initiative focused on girls’ entrepreneurship, leadership, and economic empowerment. For more information regarding the findings from AGALI’s Adolescent Girls' Economic Empowerment Report, click here .

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