Girl development is gaining the attention of national governments, international relief organisations and hundreds of millions of individuals. But to turn ambition into action we have to look critically at how we deliver programming for girls and incorporate girls from the start, says Judith Bruce, senior associate and policy analyst with the Population Council.
It's time to close the gap between awareness, aspirations and investments on the ground for the 600 million adolescent girls in the developing world at the cusp of adulthood and promise.
Girls stand at the centre of the international agenda as key drivers of change. Without a focus on key populations of adolescent girls, critical global and national commitments will not be met. Not only does investing in girls make financial sense, failing to do so is nothing less than planned poverty.
HOW THINGS STAND TODAY
Investment is not getting to the girls who need it most. Adolescents with the greatest advantages are being given the most resources, while those facing the greatest risks are getting the least. In Burkina Faso only 19 per cent of the population served by youth centres are girls, whereas 36 per cent of the 'youth' in question are men older than 20.
Applying girl-centred design can address this harmful disparity.
Girl-centred design puts girls at the centre of each and every programme decision - from identifying which girls to target, when and why, to measuring results at the level of the girl. Girl-centred design requires both a strategic vision and a practical plan - planning at scale while carrying out carefully observed, phased implementation on the ground.
If we act now to build girls' health, social and economic assets, these girls will anchor the virtuous circle from poverty to broad-based economic inclusion, social participation and health. That is the power of girl-centred design.
FOUR THINGS TO KNOW
1 IDENTIFY THE RIGHT GIRLS: MAKING AN INFORMED CHOICE
We have the data to define areas where girls are at the highest risk, and we can use it to prioritise them. Disaggregating data by age, sex and key indicators - such as schooling, marital and childbearing status - is critical to strategically selecting the target group.
The Population Council has developed maps for about 50 countries, which pinpoint large concentrations of girls at high risk down to a sub-national level. Data is split so we can compare males and females and contrast sub-national regions in the same country.
2 BUILD SUPPORT: MOBILISING MENTORS
Even in the poorest communities there are young women who have exceptional capacities to mentor younger girls. A visible role model inspires a girl to imagine an achievable future. Mentors are the lynchpins of girl-centred design programmes. They help recruit girls, negotiate with families and the community, host meetings with girls and deliver health, social and economic content.
There are publications to help with this: Girl-Centered Design: A Toolkit to Develop, Strengthen & Expand Adolescent Girl Programs and Girls' Leadership and Mentoring: A Girls First! Publication provide guidance on selecting, training and supporting mentors and developing girls' leadership skills.
3 SET GOALS: DEVELOPING A MEASURABLE VISION
When girls feature in development programmes and plans, it's often the consequences to be avoided that are highlighted. We can't form a revolution around negatives. We must define the key social, health and economic assets girls need to get on track and move ahead.
Girl-centred design asks girls, mentors, community members and leaders which assets girls should have, and by when. For example: by what age should a girl know the danger signs of pregnancy? Have emergency savings? Know where to go for help?
Reality-tested benchmarks of being prepared for the future should guide programme content and evaluation plans.
4 DEVELOP MATERIALS: WHICH CONTENT TO DELIVER AND HOW TO DELIVER IT
Methods, content and success indicators should be tailored to the specific situations faced by each group of disadvantaged girls. Some materials are available 'off the shelf', while others can be adapted, but many have yet to be developed - such as core financial education materials for girls in poor communities.
We must prepare and plan with girls for the reality that they will be supporting themselves and their children, solely or substantially.
GIRL-CENTRED DESIGN WORKS
This is not just theory. There is evidence of girl-centred design working successfully with almost every important segment of disadvantaged girls. From tackling child marriage in Ethiopia, to working with indigenous girls in Guatemala and city girls in danger in Kenya and Uganda, this is an approach that can - and does - lift girls out of poverty.
Though the circle of girl advocates and enthusiasts has grown, the number of projects on the ground has not increased commensurately with this interest.
The time is now to challenge ourselves to create a committed investment strategy.