One out of every eight people is a girl or young woman between the ages of 10 and 24 and approximately 600 million adolescent girls live in the developing world. Adolescent girls are among the most vulnerable people in the world; they face multiple inequalities and experience negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes. Every year 3 million girls are at risk of female genital cutting in Africa. Every day more than 25,000 girls under the age of 18 are married. Adolescent females are disproportionally affected by the HIV epidemic; females make up more than 60% of all young people living with HIV. Young women face high rates of early and unintended pregnancy, and childbirth-related complications are the number one cause of death among adolescent girls ages 15–19.
Along with myriad sexual and reproductive health challenges, adolescent girls also face multiple economic disparities. Of all out-of-school youth, 70% are girls. Globally, young women are less likely to be employed than young men and earn lower wages than young men. Furthermore, increased household responsibilities among adolescent girls hinder their ability to find work outside of the home and to attend school.
However, with the right skills and opportunities, girls are able to invest in themselves now and in their families later. When girls are able to stay in school, delay marriage, postpone pregnancy and reach their full potential, they and their families are better educated and healthier. By intervening to counter risks that exist and by promoting positive relationships and behaviors for girls, we are investing in the women and leaders of our future.
Research suggests that multisectoral program approaches to adolescent girl’s health and economic empowerment can improve negative outcomes. We can only do so much to improve access to education or build economic opportunities, for example, if we are not also helping protect young people from HIV, treating those living with HIV, or preventing early and unintended pregnancy. We must work toward a generation of young people healthy enough to enjoy the benefits they might reap from other development opportunities.
To discuss the importance of a multisectoral approach to adolescent girls’ health and well-being as well as to exchange knowledge across countries to inform and transform practice in this area, FHI 360 on behalf of the IYWG, with the Youth Health and Rights Coalition, and the Coalition for Adolescent Girls is hosting an e-forum “Girl-Centered Development: What Are We Really Doing?” Join moderators from USAID, Population Reference Bureau, Population Council, CARE, Advancing Girls’ Education in Africa, and ICRW February 27-28 and be a part of this pivotal conversation.
You can participate in the discussion—before, during, and after the e-forum—on Twitter (hash tag #girlsatthecenter)