Since its inception 55 years ago, the Population Council has been committed to supporting the health and well-being of current and future generations around the world. While all people share the same rights, investments in some are more critical to poverty alleviation; for instance, addressing an HIV epidemic that is increasingly young, poor and female, and improving reproductive health, especially persistently high levels of maternal mortality. Investing in poor girls in poor communities should address the critical issues that girls face in adolescence. What happens to a girl, especially in early adolescence – for good or ill – shapes her future, and that of her family and her community. It is a firm conviction that building the health, social and economic assets is the highest possible priority for just and economically productive societies.
What have we learned over our more than decade-long efforts working with and for adolescent girls? Girls needs a health start; a network of friends and a safe space to meet them; mentors to reach out to and to model themselves upon; to get to school on time and stay there through adolescence; an ability to defer marriage until it is both wanted and legal; the knowledge, the social tools and indeed, the economic alternatives to protect themselves from unsafe and unwanted sexual relations; and crucially, literacy, financial literacy, livelihood skills and dedicated savings products. These investments made in girls at a timely moment are not costly – but surely, not making them is.
Investing in girls is also a critical economic development strategy as in most countries, developed and developing, many children are substantially or solely reliant upon the economic knowledge and resources of a woman. Improving the economic knowledge and prospects of girls in poor communities is essential to creating a broadening middle class of prepared workers and informed consumers.
We applaud Standard Chartered Bank for its investment in girls through commitment to the Goal programme. This initiative combines many elements of successful girls programming, harnesses the skills and resources of the private sector and links them closely with the specialist knowledge and expertise of the non-governmental organizations who have been working in girl-centered programmes. Our hope is that more private sector organizations will follow suit and invest in girl-focused programming.
Today, there are approximately 600 million girls in the developing world. Whether girls thrive will shape the development prospects of their societies today, and well into the future.
Judith Bruce and Martha Brady
Poverty, Gender and Youth Programme