Yohannes Wolday from the Nike Foundation explores the personal, national and global opportunities in economically empowering adolescent girls
Meet Christine, a 15-year-old girl in Burundi. She doesn't go to school and has never participated in a skill-building programme of any sort. She has no friends or money, and the only way she knows how to get money is to exchange sexual favours for cash.
Can you imagine her future?
Now meet Jocelyne, a 16-year-old schoolgirl who, together with two friends, owns a small solar panel, with which they make money by charging cell phones. With this income Jocelyne is able to cover her school fees and the cost of school supplies. She also saves some of her money as part of a saving and loan group she has formed with other girls in her village. She is able to say 'no' to boyfriends, stating: "My solar panel is my new boyfriend." She is now well recognised in her community. What do you think about Jocelyne's future?
In fact, Christine and Jocelyne are the same girl, described before and after she participated in the Ishaka project - an initiative that builds girls' social and economic wellbeing in Burundi. By participating in this project for two hours a week for nine months, she was able to turn her life around.
THIS IS MORE THAN A GREAT STORY - THIS IS A WAKE-UP CALL
FIRST, THERE ARE LOTS OF GIRLS LIKE CHRISTINE IN THE WORLD
In many areas, adolescence comes with increased restrictions. Girls are often seen as 'women in training' and face a disproportionate burden of household chores, which consume most of their time and restrict their mobility and opportunities to go to school and participate in activities. Girls often lack confidence and networks, making it even more difficult to make friends, find jobs or know how to earn an income without having to use their bodies as their only assets. And in many places, girls can't legally own property or receive inheritances, contributing to the fact that women own less than one per cent of the world's property.
Participation in girl-focused economic empowerment programmes during adolescence can contribute to reducing risks and expanding opportunities for girls, putting them on a solid path for the future.
SECOND, INVESTING IN CHRISTINE BRINGS A HIGHER RETURN THAN ANY OTHER DEVELOPMENT INVESTMENT
Investing in an adolescent girl isn't just a moral imperative, it's an economic necessity. A girl's economic prosperity benefits her, her family, her country and the global economy.
Economic wellbeing puts girls on the path to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty. Jocelyne (and girls like her all over the world) is a lot better off than she was before she took part in the Ishaka project. Not only does she have a safely earned income, but she also knows how to protect herself and her savings. Research shows that girls who have their own money and are financially literate are also more likely to marry later and have better negotiating power when it comes decisions about sexual relationships.
HER FAMILY BENEFITS
When a girl is financially literate, and is able to earn an income and save, she can improve her household's ability to withstand economic changes and invest in her future children's schooling and health. Increased female control of income also leads to far greater returns for human capital than comparable income under male control. Research in Brazil showed that the likelihood of a child's survival was 20 per cent higher when the mother controlled household income; and in Kenya, income in mothers' hands was found to increase children's height by 17 per cent.
HER COUNTRY BENEFITS
Since she is economically better off, a girl will contribute to higher GDP growth, tax revenue, improved health and civic participation. For example, if young Nigerian women had the same employment rate as young men, the country would add $13.9bn to the economy annually.
THE GLOBAL ECONOMY BENEFITS
Economically empowered girls contribute to global economic performance and, as a result, lower global poverty. Research by the World Bank shows that closing the joblessness gap between women and men would increase the global GDP by up to 5.4 per cent. And the benefits aren't just financial; the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) argues that closing the gender gap in access to agricultural inputs (such as land, fertilisers and seeds) could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million.
TO PUT IT ANOTHER WAY - THE COST OF IGNORING GIRLS IS CATASTROPHIC
When girls have limited access to assets they are more likely to drop out or underperform in school, experience violence and have lower income earning potential as adults. Poor and out-of-school girls are also more susceptible to early marriage and teen pregnancy. These both have a decisive impact on the ability of adolescent girls to accumulate human capital and participate in the future labour force. For example, adolescent girls' pregnancy costs Bangladesh $22bn over a lifetime; in Uganda the cost of 15-to-19-year-old pregnancy is 30 per cent of GDP over a lifetime.
We can fix this picture by economically empowering the 250 million girls living on less than $2 a day.
SO, HOW DO WE DO IT?
To successfully economically empower girls we need to prepare them for a safe and productive livelihood. We need to equip them first with education, skills, mentors and support, so they will be ready to receive access to financial services and physical assets such as land, savings schemes and tools. Girls must be given an understanding of their economic rights, value and potential. And we have to deliver assets that are age-appropriate - which means making sure the right assets are available to girls, at the right time in their development.
THIS ISN'T JUST A THEORY
Girls' economic empowerment is possible, and has become a reality, on a small scale, all over the world. The Nike Foundation and many others who work in this area continue to prove that investing in girls' economic empowerment programmes has demonstrated significant returns - and these returns go far beyond economic wellbeing. A recent evaluation found that 11-to-20-year-old girls who participated in a Nike Foundation-funded programme in Uganda were 26 per cent less likely to have a baby than non-participants. Moreover, they are 35 per cent more likely to engage in an income-generating activity, resulting in a 33 per cent increase in the amount of money that girls spend on things they consume. Another investment in Burundi, which benefitted more than 12,000 girls, revealed a 58 per cent reduction in those satisfying their financial needs through prostitution or begging.
The challenge now is to take this impact to scale.
Will you join me?