There are currently an estimated 600 million girls in the world between the ages of 10 and 19. The vast majority of these girls – around 90 percent – live in developing countries. Girls in this age range are at a critical point in their lives during which they will transition from children to adults, experience life-altering events and form the foundation for much of the rest of their lives. The experiences these girls are allowed and enabled to have will play a significant role in the world’s ability to make progress on key development goals, including the Sustainable Development Goals. They will shape the future of the world for decades to come.
Around the world, adolescent girls are often at a disadvantage both because of their age and because of their gender. Adolescence is the stage of life when gender norms and stereotypes firmly take hold, with adolescent girls in particular facing intense pressure to conform to gendered expectations about their role in life that often limit their aspirations and opportunities. This is also a period of life where gender-based discrimination can be particularly exaggerated, with girls facing a greater likelihood of experiencing a range of challenges. For example, in many developing countries, girls are forced to marry shortly after puberty, often to much older men. Their education and opportunities to engage with peers is typically curtailed as a result. In many communities around the world, girls are expected to carry out domestic duties, such as caring for younger siblings or older family members, tending to livestock and crops, and collecting firewood and water. These burdens can undermine their opportunities for education and, in turn, for satisfying and well-paid employment.
Globally, one in four girls under 17 reports experiencing sexual abuse, and many more face emotional and physical abuse and harassment due to their gender. Across the world, adolescent girls face extremely limited access to sexual and reproductive health services, which contributes to an estimated 20,000 births to adolescent girls each day, and more than three million unsafe abortions by adolescent girls each year.
Despite the tremendous potential that adolescent girls have to contribute toward their own growth and betterment, as well as that of their societies, these and other challenges very often prevent them from fully realizing this potential. Understanding why girls face the disadvantages they do and how to best address and overcome them is critical to ensuring a better future for us all.
By Saira Habib, ICRW Fellow, Professional Fellows for Govern
ICRW has designed, implemented and evaluated solutions that enhance girls’ health and wellbeing; foster education and economic stability; build confidence, voice and agency; and that will ultimately position them for successful transitions to adulthood. Our researchers develop, inform and evaluate girl-focused programs and policies and identify opportunities to incorporate a focus on girls within larger health, education, development and youth-oriented efforts.
ICRW uses that evidence to push for girls’ rights to be addressed in local, national and global programs, laws and policies. For example, researchers in ICRW’s Asia Regional Office have designed school- and workplace-based curricula for tackling gender norms and promoting girls’ rights and empowerment that are being used by school systems and companies to curb violence against girls, promote positive gender norms and encourage girls’ and young women’s full participation in the home, classroom, workplace and communities.
Our researchers and policy specialists help the broader development community understand the many challenges facing adolescent girls and how those challenges undermine progress on a range of development outcomes. ICRW researchers, for example, authored two chapters of the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) State of World Population 2016 report, which documents the experience of and makes the case for investing in 10-year-old girls globally. Our reports on the status of adolescent girls around the world helped us to make the successful case for their inclusion throughout the Sustainable Development Goals.
ICRW is also an active member of coalitions and communities of practice geared toward promoting the health and rights of girls around the world. ICRW is a founding member of the Coalition for Adolescent Girls and chairs the advocacy coalition Girls Not Brides USA. In these capacities ICRW played a pivotal role in pushing the U.S. Government to produce and then offered evidence that helped to shape the world’s first piece of foreign policy dedicated to the empowerment of girls, the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls. The five objectives of that Strategy are taken directly from ICRW’s research on the solutions to end child marriage.