1.1.3 Gender & Serving Adolescent Girls and Young Women
Focus on a broad and flexible range of skill sets to empower girls and women.
Programming experience shows that adolescent girls’ and young women’s needs are often better met by programs that transfer a broad range of skills, rather than vocational-only programs. Presenters at the 2012 Conference noted that in their experience, women and girls in many cultural contexts prefer and excel in training models that emphasize the skills for self-employment, especially among hard-to-serve and poorest-of-the-poor populations, rather than narrower vocational skills. There are several reasons for this. First, women often need (and value) the flexibility afforded by self-employment or entrepreneurship because it allows them to accommodate the competing demands of work and family. Second, entrepreneurial training usually incorporates critical thinking skills, which are particularly useful to girls who lack a formal educational background, while vocational training may not provide this dimension. Third, due to limited access to formal labor markets, women with better “generic” entrepreneurial skills can more easily seize new opportunities as they arise, allowing for diversification of family income sources. In contrast, converting vocational skills into income depends on access to specific tools and to markets, which may change over time.
The Bangladesh Youth Employment Pilot (BYEP) project provides an example of supporting young women, alongside young men, with both entrepreneurial and technical skills. BYEP was an associate award under USAID’s EQUIP 3 cooperative agreement Leader with Associates (LWA) mechanism. The Education Development Center (EDC) implemented the pilot for 18 months in 2008-2010.
BYEP developed the entrepreneurial and technical skills of 161 females and 227 male youth for employment in the rapidly-growing fresh-water prawn sub-sector in Bangladesh. The program successfully created an environment in a residential training program where both young men and women could live and work side-by-side. The pilot’s focus on the rapidly-growing aquaculture sector encountered a setback when the sector stumbled due to the adverse environmental impacts of growth. Many of the vocational skills the youth participants acquired became less relevant, but the more transferrable skills they gained, such as workplace behavior, teamwork, and personal management, retained their value for program graduates.
Lessons learned worldwide show that programs should, if not must, help adolescent girls and young women choose viable businesses or other income-generating activities (IGAs). Save the Children implements the DFID-funded Tanisha program, which promotes women’s income-generation opportunities among extremely poor households in Barisal, Bangladesh. The project empowers girls, ages 12 to 19, to choose viable income-generating activities, while building their leadership and social skills. Without this support, the girls had difficulty identifying economic activities that would support themselves and their families. After a period of experimentation, the project began to support participants in conducting collaborative market research focused on choosing IGAs for which inputs, tools, and training and technical support were locally available, and for which there was unmet demand in local markets.
Seek to involve the community in all stages of program development and implementation, particularly in conservative cultures, to make space for girls to assert leadership.
Involving elders and parents through a formal mechanism builds opportunity for girls’ leadership and engagement by reducing the culture of shame around girls working outside of the home. This also entails enrolling both genders to support women’s success. Engagement from the beginning can prevent community-level misunderstandings that jeopardize programs, influence changes in attitudes about what is possible for girls and young women to achieve, and acclimate conservative elements of communities to the notion of women working in mixed-gender environments. This is particularly necessary in culturally-conservative environments, where community disapproval of programs can severely undermine success.
The Tanisha program engages the entire community—including families, advisory committees, local entrepreneurs, and government partners—in the selection of IGAs. The program acts through formal Community Advocacy Committees (CAC), comprised of groups of adults—parents, teachers, and religious and community leaders—who demonstrate enthusiasm for girls’ empowerment and interest in supporting them in their economic and leadership endeavors. In Save the Children’s experience with previous adolescent empowerment projects, these formalized supporting community groups are crucial to the adolescent groups’ legitimacy and success. At least four adults (two men and two women) in each beneficiary community composed each CAC. The CACs make an annual plan for how the community can support girls’ success. Some unexpected positive results are highlighted in the accompanying text box.
Somewhat unexpectedly, Save the Children found that girls who had participated in the Tanisha program gained improved marriage prospects. Initial fears that better educated girls would have “too strong a voice” were proven wrong. Instead, participating girls, who delayed marriage to participate in the program, were perceived by the community as leaders and therefore more attractive marriage candidates. Program findings show that participants’ elevated stature can also reduce the risk of domestic violence in the groom’s household.
EDC representatives at the 2012 GYEOC emphasized that BYEP’s successes rested on a community-driven approach that engaged parents, community leaders, and private sector representatives. This facilitated access to participants, helped identify role models, and strengthened the youth participant’s sense of belonging in a community that supported his or her aspirations. In this case, both men and women in the community found reason to support BYEP participants, as illustrated in the accompanying text box.
“I am now comfortable working with women. Earlier I thought they are incapable of any hard work and often they are lazy. But now I know they are same like us and can some time be more sincere.” – (Male) Kutub, Graduate of the Bangladesh Youth Employment Project, reported by EDC
Program designers need to be vigilant in ensuring that a focus on gender equity is maintained throughout implementation, and not just during up-front assessments and in the design phase.
In a review of 18 youth assessments conducted under the USAID EQUIP3 Leader with Associates cooperative agreement mechanism, EDC found that 10 had identified gender as a key concern, but only 7 had explicitly targeted gender through design and implementation.
Additionally, particularly within formal sector workforce programs, gender is often not perceived as a top consideration to address in program design and implementation. For example, staff in EQUIP3 projects did not consistently recognize that gender was integral to achieving project outcomes. Therefore, the types of classroom and workplace supports needed to help female participants succeed were not consistently put in place in all projects.
As a result, data from EQUIP3’s projects reflect more general trends in which fewer young women than young men complete vocational training or are placed in jobs. In projects in which specific strategies were used to address gender constraints, there was increased female participation in non-traditional job sectors (e.g., the Bangladesh Youth Employment Pilot (BYEP) referenced above). The International Youth Foundation (IYF) provided the following checklist at the 2012 Conference, which others can use for ensuring WfD programs are gender aware.
Planning Phase: Incorporate gender analysis
Identify structural and cultural issues (traditional roles/stereotypes, disparities in educational or skills levels, unequal access to resources)
- Review existing data, interviews, focus groups
- Survey public, private, nonprofit, and educational sectors, community leaders, families, and youth
- Determine what will prevent young men and women from benefiting equally from the program
- Identify inequities that might lead designers to target one gender due to relative disadvantage or risk levels
Program Design and Implementation: Consider gender findings in structuring interventions
- Outreach to and selection of youth for training
- Choice of and preparation of trainers
- Times, places, and composition of training classes
- Support services (transportation, child care, remedial education, psycho-social support)
- Outreach to parents and community
- Working with employers to ensure workplaces meet the needs of both sexes
Life Skills: Training should be gender-aware and offered to men and women
- Tailor lessons to male and female audiences if necessitated by local issues
- Include lessons on gender bias, equality, gender–based violence, etc.
- Provide reproductive health information
- Build self-awareness, self-confidence, communication, and conflict resolution skills
- Generate awareness among participants of initial gender biases
Monitoring and Evaluation
- Design gender-specific data collection from the beginning
- Ensure local partners track gender from program entry to performance to job placement
- Analyze data during implementation to check results and make adjustments
- Conduct post-program analysis to identify changes achieved in gender equality