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This post, written by Joy Cunningham, originally appeared on the FHI 360 “Degrees” blog and can be accessed here.

Many of us who spend our time in the youth sexual and reproductive health (YSRH) world don’t often cross paths with those in the business of economic empowerment and livelihoods programs for young people. Although both worlds are aware of the converging paths, funding streams generally keep us operating on parallel roads. Therefore, I was pleased to facilitate a panel session this morning at the conference: “Exploring the Intersection of Adolescent Girls’ Reproductive Health and Economic Empowerment.” During a lively session, panelists shared their experiences with both issues for girls. Some of the themes were:

  •  Even though we are aware of the problem, the data on SRH and economic empowerment for girls, taken together for developing countries, is shocking. The rates of HIV, maternal mortality and morbidity, poverty and isolation paint a dismal picture for girls.
  • Programs that target girls and adults in the community, with messages on both SRH and economic empowerment, are showing some successes. There’s more to learn, but results are encouraging.
  • Models that incorporate peer education and work with girls on SRH and economic empowerment show positive results: the Tesfa program led by the International Center for Research on Women, the Siyakha Nentsha program in South Africa led by Population Council, and a program by Restless Development in Northern Uganda all included a peer education component.
  • Reducing social isolation seems key for increasing both SRH and economic outcomes for girls. Girls need access to other girls for many reasons, but importantly, to give them an outlet to talk about themselves: their ideas, dreams and goals.
  • It’s important to work with the adults, not just the girls. Teachers, parents and faith leaders all play roles in girls’ lives, and we need to get them on board with difficult topics. Sex and money are not easy to discuss with young people, and the adults need to build their skills to do it.

Today’s session initiated some vital discussion about next steps. It’s my hope that the two worlds of SRH and economic empowerment for young people will start to cross more often and begin to operate more closely together. This year’s conference is an encouraging step toward that. Look for more information on this topic, including a research brief and e-forum, by visiting the Interagency Youth Working Group website.


Tomorrow, FHI 360 on behalf of the IYWG, will host a panel presentation at 2012 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference on the intersection of adolescent girls’ economic empowerment and sexual and reproductive health. 

Adolescent girls face multiple economic disparities and sexual and reproductive health challenges.  Adolescent girls are more vulnerable to HIV and other STIs than males, and experience high rates of sexual violence, pregnancy, maternal mortality and morbidity and early marriage.  Females make up more than 60% of all young people living with HIV and account for 72% of young people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 16 million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth each year and childbirth related complications are the number one cause of death among girls ages 15-19. One out of seven girls in developing countries marries before age 15, and approximately 1 in 5 females will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.

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.

Economic disparity is both a cause and a consequence of negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes.

Girls with low socioeconomic standing are at an increased risk of marrying early and of engaging in transactional sex or intergenerational relationships. Lower socioeconomic standing also increases young women’s chances of experiencing sexual and intimate partner violence; all increasing adolescent girls’ risk of early pregnancy and HIV infection. Likewise, early and unintended pregnancy as well as HIV infection can hinder young women’s economic opportunities. Girls who become pregnant are more likely to leave school early, bear more children at shorter intervals, and have a lower income throughout their lifetime. Adolescent girls who become infected with HIV may be less able to find work because of stigma surrounding the disease, or less able to keep work because of their illness.

Research suggests that multi-faceted program approaches to adolescent girl’s health and economic empowerment can improve these outcomes. Our panel tomorrow, entitled, “Exploring the Intersection of Adolescent Girls’ Reproductive Health and Economic Empowerment,” will share innovative programs from Population Council, ICRW, and Restless Development all addressing the  intersection of girls’ economic empowerment and sexual and reproductive health.

“Exploring the Intersection of Adolescent Girls’ Reproductive Health and Economic Empowerment” will take place on September 12, 2012 at 9:00 a.m. in room 300 of the Inter-American Development Bank’s Conference Center.


This post is written by Callie Simon and originally appeared on Pathfinder International’s Field Journal in June 2011.

 It’s astounding to think that there are 3 billion people under the age of 25 alive today, 1.8 billion of whom are between 10 and 24 years of age. I firmly believe that these young people—if they are healthy and empowered—can be productive, influential members of their communities and their countries. Unfortunately, young people are currently facing remarkably high rates of early marriage, unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and maternal mortality and morbidity, as well as severely limited access to jobs, education, and political participation.

To address these challenges and give young people the opportunities they need to thrive, young people, national governments, and the international community are calling for multisectoral programs. Multisectoral programs acknowledge that young people’s problems are interconnected and include strategies to address two or more of the sectors that are central to young people as they transition into adulthood: health, education, livelihoods, and civic engagement. In multisectoral programs, each intervention plays a role in improving outcomes in the other sectors—just as the problems young people face are intertwined, so too are their solutions. 

After working with diverse young people in different regions of the world, I agree that multisectoral programs are important for holistic youth development—but too often sexual and reproductive health is ignored. If multisectoral programs are to reach their full potential, they must include a strong sexual and reproductive health component. International research and Pathfinder’s experience shows that programs to prevent early marriage, unintended pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections not only improve young people’s health, but also result in noteworthy gains in education, livelihoods, and civic engagement.


The graphic above—an excerpt from our recent publication—illustrates exactly this point. It shows that young people’s journey to adulthood is fraught with difficulties and their sexual and reproductive health needs must be met in order for investments in other sectors to be beneficial. Only then can young people stay the course and fully contribute to the economic and social development of their communities

The newest publication from Pathfinder’s 3 Billion Reasons Campaign builds on this graphic and uses compelling data to argue that sexual and reproductive health must be a part of any multisectoral youth program. I encourage you to read it and visit our Three Billion Reasons campaign page for more information, including how you can get involved.


A Smart Investment: Integrating Sexual and Reproductive Health into Multisectoral Youth Programs

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This blog is brought to you by the Interagency Youth Working Group (IYWG) with financial assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The content is managed by FHI, which functions as the secretariat for the IYWG.
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