What comes to mind when you think of a leader? A world-changer? A person of power? On a small scale, perhaps a teacher or clergy member comes to mind. On a larger scale, maybe you think of organizations like The Red Cross, UNICEF, or government leaders. Not many individuals would first think of the adolescent girl down the street, especially not in certain poverty ridden countries, but that is exactly who The Girl Effect is putting at the forefront of its movement for empowerment and change.
The Girl Effect is a movement created by a collaboration of four foundations with a focus on empowering young women: The Nike Foundation, the Novo Foundation, the United Nations Foundation and the Coalition for Adolescent Girls. The Nike Foundation began in 2004 in an effort to aid in the research and solutions to end global poverty. Toward this goal, the Nike Foundation, reviewing studies completed by the Population Council and the International Center for Research on Women, among others, came to the conclusion that by investing in the education and empowerment of adolescent women around the world, there was a potential to stop, or at least reduce the impact of, poverty at its beginning.
Why Adolescent Girls?
There is a cycle to poverty. Often, when a child is raised in poverty, there is limited access to education, medical resources, and job opportunities, and so the poverty continues into that child’s adult life. This is true for both boys and girls. However, often times, what little access there is to education and job opportunities is meted out unfairly to boys. Girls around the world living in poverty are the first ones to be kept out of school to help out in the home, are the first to be married at young age, and of course, are the first to become pregnant. Furthermore, as pointed out in the International Center for Research on Women’s Common Interests Common Action:
Those women who are employed are concentrated in a relatively small number of jobs, which tend to be low-paying with little opportunity for advancement and may be located in unsafe or unhealthy working conditions…In many countries, women’s work outside the home is forbidden or looked down upon because of strong cultural beliefs that a woman’s proper role is limited to the home.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights are also an important factor in terms of the cycle of poverty. In the high-risk areas of the world The Girl Effect focuses on, when a girl gets pregnant, whether willingly or through rape, sex trafficking, and arranged marriages, she will no longer be able to attend school, work, or contribute to society outside the world of her home. Further, in cases of rape or pregnancy outside of marriage, the girl is shunned by her family and community, leading to homelessness and disease as perpetuated by a lack of access to medical care (even the rudimentary medical care a small, poverty ridden community can offer).
Because the chips are stacked against these women, the chances of them contributing to the society in which they live in a meaningful way is diminished. Most importantly, studies show that keeping women in poverty perpetuates the cycle of poverty. These girls do not have access to education, decent jobs, or sexual and reproductive health because their mothers did not have access to those key elements in escaping poverty. And, when these girls have children of their own, their daughters will suffer from the same inequalities.
In an effort to break the cycle, the focus of The Girl Effect initiative is on these adolescent girls. As philanthropist Peter Buffett of the Novo Foundation said in an interview when asked “why girls?”:
The mother of every child was a girl once. That’s something no one has argued with me on so far. Wouldn’t it be great if women had children when they were ready and educated? And wouldn’t it be great if they had some sort of say in the world they and their children were going to live in? I’m talking about inheritance rights, land rights, voting rights – everything that gives people a voice in their own futures. If women are better off when they have a child, the child’s going to be better off, and it doesn’t matter [if that child] is a boy or a girl.
When girls’ lives are made better through better funding, awareness and education, the entire community benefits and eventually, the benefits will spread outward to the city, the country, and the entire world. It is akin to the theme in the proverb “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime.” Sociologists and economists have come to realize that throwing money and food in the general direction of poverty is not helping. But, empowering what is clearly the center of the family and societal unit – the mother/woman – is they key to stopping, or at least abating, poverty before it has a disastrous effect. Additionally, young women making a splash in the news like Malala Yousafzai, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, have given other young women throughout the world someone to look up to and aspire to be like. Young women are becoming involved in advancing themselves and their communities more than ever before.
What Does The Girl Effect Do To Help?
The Girl Effect is a movement, not a charity. You do not sign up for anything or send money directly to www.thegirleffect.org. Simply visit the website and see the Girl Effect video that explains its mission and how it started. After viewing the video, browse the various case studies, initiative highlights, and current steps being taken to help young women throughout the world.
One such initiative which is a newer addition to the movement is the Girl Effect Accelerator. The Girl Effect Accelerator was launched in November, 2014, and matched up ten promising start-up ventures with financing, mentorship, tools and support to enable the start-ups to have an impact on adolescent women living in poverty. The start-ups were chosen for their profitability and potential impact on the girls living in poverty throughout the world. By providing support to these companies, both financial and educational, the goal is to increase the flow of capital to the women most affected by a lack of access to education, good jobs, and health care.
You do not have to donate money to endeavors like the Girl Effect Accelerator, however. You can educate yourself on a wide variety of initiatives throughout the world and assist the Girl Effect simply by spreading awareness and supporting the companies and initiatives that act with the Girl Effect’s core values in mind.
While the desire to support adolescent girls living in poverty around the world is not a new idea, it has gained traction in the last few years primarily due to Nike, an athletic company, and a main force behind The Girl Effect. Nike is using The Girl Effect to raise awareness, funds, and make the world a better place, but it is also a company interested in making money. Empowering women as part social consciousness effort, part marketing plan is not new to Nike, and companies using social issues as marketing tools is nothing new, either. But, the fact that companies are put in the spotlight along with these social issues does not mean that the motivations behind The Girl Effect and other for-profit endeavors are misguided. What it does mean is, if the plight of adolescent girls living in poverty around the world is one that interests you, you should do your own research on the issues and help in a way that makes sense to you.