7.1 Investment in AGYW Needs to Happen Early; Between 10 and 14 Years of Age

Puberty—a moment that arises for girls two years biologically and sometimes four years socially earlier than it does for boys—triggers a sequence of often negative events for marginalized girls in poor communities. Judith Bruce, Senior Associate and Policy Analyst for the Population Council, noted at the 2011 GYEOC that, “Female puberty brings with it unparalleled risk with intense pressure to control female labor, fertility, and sexuality which is guaranteed by threats of violence, social exclusion “being deemed unmarriageable” and destitution.” In many countries, school dropout among girls accelerates when they become 12 to 13 years old. In addition to losing out on an education and the increased earnings associated with more years of education, girls also miss opportunities for positive socialization and skill-building. Early marriage and motherhood frequently follow.

To counteract this cascading effect, investment in AGYW and asset-building needs to happen before puberty. By promoting girls’ social inclusion and skill-building, YEO programs can prepare girls for livelihoods through effective education and bolstered social networks as they face threats to their physical integrity and autonomy in adolescence. Continued support after this point is also critical. Box 7.1.1 details how one organization’s structure can span a girl’s life.

7.1.1 Practical Tips: The Population Council on How to Protect Girls and Build Social and Financial Asset

Providing girls with a few basic supports can assist them in navigating the challenges of puberty. The Population Council, an international, nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that seeks to improve the well-being and reproductive health of current and future generations around the world, suggests the following program components to build assets and keep girls safe and in school:

  • Create friendship networks for girls and provide regularly available spaces, places and platforms where girls can meet;
  • Find female mentors that girls can turn to for support;
  • Ensure that girls have personal documentation;
  • Provide girls with a context specific and realistic safety net, a safe place to stay the night in an emergency. Many girls are two minutes away from exploitation.
  • Provide girls with age-graded, gender and context-specific financial literacy;
  • Help girls start incubator or emergency savings initially then help them build up to more goal-oriented savings and more sophisticated products. Savings are more important when young than credit.41

For more information, see www.popcouncil.org.1

Camfed is another leading international NGO that is investing in girls early, and is committed to working with them over the long-term.

7.1.2 Bright Ideas: Camfed Builds Assets through a Girl's Life Span

Camfed, a non-profit that fights poverty and HIV/AIDS in Africa by educating girls and empowering women to become leaders of change, begins supporting girls in primary school, helping schools provide emergency safety nets for children to stay in school. Financial and social support intensifies when girls reach secondary school. Camfed trains a network of mentors, frequently female teachers, to counsel and support girls when necessary. Once they graduate from high school, many girls supported by Camfed join its alumni organization, CAMA. Over 15,000 young women are members of

CAMA and now support the education of 160,000 children. In addition, CAMA members can choose to receive training to become community health activists. This age-graded approach supports girls and young women to build a more sophisticated set of assets, give back to their communities, and assume leadership and decision-making positions in their communities.

For more information, see http://us.Camfed.org/site/ PageServer?pagename=home_index.


  • 1. Judith Bruce. “The Unique Reasons Girls (and Later Women) are Poor and What We Can Do About It.” Presentation for Making Cents International’s 2011 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference. September 8, 2011.