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Ending Global Poverty Starts With 600 Million Adolescent Girls

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Globally, 600 million adolescent girls struggle with widespread poverty, limited access to education and health services, and persistent discrimination and violence. Adolescent girls are among the world's most economically vulnerable groups, significantly more so than adult women or adolescent boys.

The Adolescent Girls' Advocacy & Leadership Initiative (AGALI) of the Public Health Institute recently launched a global report that explores the factors that influence girls' economic empowerment, analyzing promising strategies and highlighting recommendations for policymakers, funders and practitioners.

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

Beyond the direct impacts for adolescent girls, economic empowerment can have positive multiplier effects for girls' families and communities. Economically empowered girls can help alleviate the strain of poverty on their parents and siblings and build more financially stable futures for their own children and families. Further, research indicates that women and girls invest significantly greater proportions of their income into their families as compared to boys and men. Therefore, as adolescent girls become more economically empowered, they can contribute to their family's prosperity and their community's economic growth.

AGALI's research identifies six principal factors that contribute to adolescent girls' economic empowerment. The first is financial capital, which includes cash, savings, access to credit and other financial assets. Another is human capital, or a girl's skills and attributes including education, knowledge, literacy, good health and self-esteem. A third key factor is social capital, which includes a girl's social networks, friends, mentors, supportive family members and role models. Social capital can determine opportunities to gain human and financial capital.

The fourth key element is physical capital, or the goods that make income generation possible. For adolescent girls, physical capital may be as basic as having a government identification card and household goods. More economically significant forms of physical capital for girls include access to land, housing and transport. Beyond a girl's individual assets, community-level social norms and institutions can create challenges or opportunities for girls' economic empowerment. Social norms include cultural beliefs regarding early marriage and childbearing, female genital cutting, and other traditional practices relating to girls' age, gender or ethnicity. Influential institutions include the legal and policy frameworks that protect girls from violence and exploitation, the macroeconomic market structure, and national education and healthcare systems.

AGALI's report highlights the importance of addressing the different needs and capacities of adolescent girls of varying ages. While adolescent girls around the world share many of the same challenges, a 12-year-old girl is drastically different from her 17-year-old sister. To that end, economic empowerment initiatives must tailor strategies to respond to the differing realities of girls across a range of age brackets, cultural contexts and political frameworks. For example, financial literacy and youth savings programs can be relevant for girls of all ages and provide a critical base for future economic advancement. However, microcredit strategies tend to be more appropriate among older adolescent girls and young women who have the mobility, resources and social support to launch small businesses.

Although adolescent girls primarily enter the workforce to support their families financially, studies have shown that girls also value the increased mobility, opportunities for friendship and greater autonomy that may come with employment. Therefore, safe and appropriate employment opportunities can strengthen adolescent girls' economic status, while improving their social welfare and future labor market prospects.

For more information regarding the findings from AGALI's Adolescent Girls' Economic Empowerment Report, click here.