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Girls' economic empowerment: Visibility first

CEO of Plan International Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, in an article written for the Special Edition of the Girls' Rights Gazette of Plan International EU Office argues that the economic empowerment of girls will only happen if the Invisible girl become visible.

Girls’ visibility is key to their economic empowerment, according to Plan International CEO.

There is convincing evidence that investing in girl-specific resources in the areas of education, health services, reproductive health and financial literacy leads to better educated, safer, healthier, and economically powerful girls. This can contribute to a substantially better future not just for the individual girls, but for their families, communities, nations and our world. Investing in girls is a core development objective in its own right, but it is also smart economics.

A smart investment

Every year of schooling increases a girl’s individual earning power by 10 to 20 percent, while the return on secondary education is even higher. If 10 percent more girls around the world attend secondary school global GDP could rise by as much as 3 percent. Women reinvest 90 percent of their income back into their families, compared to men who reinvest just 30-40 percent. Furthermore, educated girls make for an empowered and productive workforce, which benefits employers and society as a whole.

The impact of investing in girls is intergenerational. A mother with a few years of formal education is considerably more likely to send her children to school, breaking the intergenerational chain of poverty. Women who have control of their own income tend to have fewer children, so a lower fertility rate means women are earning more and a country’s national income is higher. Girls who are married and have children long before they are financially secure will therefore earn less – and everyone will suffer the consequences.

 The momentum is shifting and there is a generation of girls eager to learn, lead, decide and thrive.

Making girls visible

The Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals, have created the perfect platform for a global movement for girls’ rights and their economic empowerment. However, some major challenges need to be addressed first. The obscurity in which the lives of girls are lived threatens to undermine our ability to make the change we need. Girls are too often hidden from sight not just in their communities but also in the statistics that drive policy.

For example, while we know that girls aged 15 to 19 are twice as likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth, we don’t even know how many girls under 15 years of age become pregnant each year.

The problem with data is deeper: 230 million children under age five globally do not have a birth certificate, denying them the right to a legal identity, while more than one hundred countries lack sufficient systems to register key life events including births and marriages. Until we can at the very least count them, the chances of transforming the position of girls remain vanishingly small.

If we are serious about meeting the Global Goals, we must be sure that the indicators and measurements we put in place accurately capture the lived realities of girls’ lives, because the Invisible Girl is one that can more easily be left behind. We must mobilise to ensure that governments and others collect, disaggregate and utilise data smartly– including innovative, perception-based methods - so that the lives of girls do not become lost between the numbers.

partnerships will make the global goals work for girls

The Global Goals also present an opportunity for organisations sharing a similar vision and goals to work together to push for girls’ rights. By giving girls a voice, many of the challenges they face can be overcome. By giving them a role in holding us to account, we can accelerate change, and make the progress become a transformation.

we need everyone to knuckle down and work together now

The expectations of girls and young women around the world are high. The momentum is shifting and there is a generation of girls eager to learn, lead, decide and thrive. These are the girls who demand their rights to grow up in a world that affords them every opportunity they are entitled to, including the freedom to be financially secure and economically independent. These basic freedoms to contribute to society and deliver change are what lead to economic empowerment for citizens and nations alike.

We can achieve this change, but we need everyone to knuckle down and work together now. We can’t do this overnight, but we will be able to achieve this through a coordinated effort that shows any doubters that empowered girls are here to stay. It is the time for action.


This article was first published in the Special Edition of the Girls' Rights Gazette "Girls 2030: A Working Future", published in June 2016 for the European Deveopment Days.