This cross-cutting theme addresses the role that gender plays in shaping economic opportunities, especially for adolescent girls and young women. Understanding the importance of gender in youth economic opportunities programming helps stakeholders identify constraints and opportunities that can increase effective participation levels of both sexes, or determine when sex-specific programs are most appropriate.
Where are we now?
With a population of nearly 7 billion people, adolescent girls, young women, and older women—in their multiple roles as workers, caregivers, and mothers—are critical to sustainable economic development. Talent is one of the most important determinants of competitiveness. Countries that can garner innovation and creativity, and leverage the economic participation of its entire population are more likely to succeed in today’s challenging global landscape. For example, the Nike Foundation found that if young Nigerian women had the same employment rates as young men, the country would add US $13.9 billion annually.1 Thus, the case for empowering girls and young women and leveraging their talent is compelling because it makes both economic and social sense.
Trends and Emerging Practices
- Girls as young as ten are economic participants in their households and capable of saving. By recognizing girls as economic participants, organizations can provide them with access to both financial literacy and savings offerings they require to mitigate risk later in life.
- Investing in young women pays off for their families as well. Women invest 90% of their earnings back into their families compared to men who invest 30% or 40%.2
- Girls who are less financially dependent are at less risk of HIV infection and negative effects of early pregnancy and child bearing.
- Adolescent girls and young women must be differentiated. Girls face unique challenges and are at distinct developmental and life stages that need tailored programming. There are very few studies or statistics that paint an accurate picture of the lives of girls and the impacts of programs on them and their communities.
- Disaggregation of data by both age and gender shows evidence for more effective program investments. Studies by groups, such as the Population Council, indicate that many organizations inadvertently favor older and male youth participants in their programs, many of whom have already benefitted from support. Married and less visible young women, on the other hand, are often unable to access programs.
- Any program designed to benefit young women should take into consideration what needs to happen with community stakeholders, the role of men and boys in that community, and what kinds of strategies will ensure girls benefit from the program and gain support of the community to thrive in ways that may challenge cultural and societal norms.
- For very vulnerable young women – diversifying income sources, developing self-confidence, and acquiring assets in the form of savings are likely better indicators of improvement than income itself.