(April 2010) Adolescent girls in developing countries confront many of the same challenges as girls do around the globe. But girls in developing countries are more likely to miss out on schooling, leaving them with limited literacy. As they enter adulthood, most will need to earn money and take responsibility for themselves and their families, but they often lack the appropriate social and health assets. Girls may face social isolation—even those living in dense urban areas—and lack essential social networks. Something as simple as an identification card may elude them, leaving them with no evidence of their legitimate place in society and at risk of not qualifying for programs that could help them. A number of programs for adolescent girls within the Population Council’s Poverty, Gender, and Youth programs have sought to address these challenges. Some aim to help girls in urban slums, others reach into rural areas and communities where girls are at high risk of child marriage. These programs seek to increase girls’ skills and assets, establish their self-worth, and raise their value within their families and communities.

During a PRB Discuss Online, Wendy Baldwin, vice president and director of the Poverty, Gender, and Youth program at the Population Council, answered participants’ questions about the problems faced by adolescent girls in developing countries and successful approaches for helping them.


April 27, 2010 1PM EDT

Transcript of Questions and Answers


Nejmudin k. Bilal: The center piece of solving the all rounded problems facing girls in developing countries is economic empowerment. how do you describe the multitude of interventions from ngos operating in these countries from hitting this root cause of the problem and what is the future direction in your opinion?
Wendy Baldwin: Surely, economic empowerment is an ultimate goal of many programs. It is useful to look at the overall process that leads up to economic empowerment. Are there strategies to keep girls in school? Can girls who have the interest and skill go on to secondary school (and beyond)? Are [there] ways—in school or out of school—to ensure that girls get access to financial capabilities education? and, are there strategies that help girls identify goals and develop concrete plans for reaching them? Do girls have role models that help them see productive economic roles? Are savings programs available that can help teach and support savings behaviors? and when girls are ready to launch into economic activities are there programs or tools (microfinance, for example) that can facilitate it? In other words, in order to get to the economic empowerment it is useful to think about the building blocks. Different NGOS or government programs or community programs may support the steps in this process. The future lies in having a broad view of what girls need to make that transition to adulthood and then identify ways to advance along that path.

Leonard Stewart: In the USA women are often the head of the household & the largest money winner. Even in modern days marriages women are often veiwed as the one person who is in control, not always but sometimes. What has change in the USA culture to make this happen? & what can we do to help the women world wide?
Wendy Baldwin: I do not think of this in terms of any one person being in control of the household. Rather, the goal that I see is a need to ensure that both partners are able to contribute to the household and have fairly balanced decision-making roles. There are factors that make these relationships uneven in much of the developing world, and to the detriment of women. For example, educational levels may be lower for women, women may not have effective access to family planning or support in its use, women may not have access to good jobs, or even to the ability to move freely outside their home. I would focus on the steps in the process that help women develop skills and assets; assets that make them more valuable in their homes and in their communities.

Meskerem Bekele, Ethiopia: I know that Population Council invests in adolescent girls here in Ethiopia too. It was before two years we, Population Media Center radio program staffs went to Akaki Woreda which is one of Addis Ababa woreda for interview. We met two girls who were 13 and 14 years old. They forced to stop their education and to married. But they said no. They were already aware. So they run away to the regions women’s affairs office when their marriage ceremony arranged. These and these kinds of many things happened in our country. But girls are still forced to early marriage. There are many challenges faced them not to go to school. So do you think that your works going as fast as you want? How much improvement could you see? And what are the new strategies that you want to apply to the future.
Wendy Baldwin: The Population Council in Ethiopia has programs that address the challenges of child marriage—in the Amhara region—and out of school girls—in Addis. In Amhara the program focuses on enrolling girls in a program during early adolescence and helping them develop their skills and vision for their future. This also involves working with the families and the communities to encourage families not to marry their daughters off at very early ages. here is a link to that program: http://www.popcouncil.org/projects/100_BerhaneHewanEthiopia.asp. The evaluation demonstrated delayed marriage and increased school attendance among participants in a rural area where child marriage is common. Now, girls may run away from child marriage and we have another program in Addis for out of school girls. In both cases it is clear that many girls are desperate to go to school and that, with care, such programs can thrive. The work never goes as quickly as we would like! there is always room to do more. But one important step is to publicize where strategies have worked so that people do not think these situations are hopeless.

Pradeep Bohara: Q.1 …in developing country… how to empower [girls] and build [their] confidence? Q.2 In the developed country, what is the situation of girls social status? Q.3. How to empower girls participation in decision making level?
Wendy Baldwin: We have a number of programs that we generally call “safe spaces” programs. These programs reach out to adolescent girls and provide them a safe physical space in which to meet and a mentor to work with them. In many cases these programs include literacy and numeracy education, financial capabilities education, health and other topics. But, one part of these programs that i find very compelling is what i think of as “leadership”. In many settings girls need an opportunity to develop a vision for their lives that is fulfilling and productive and that they can speak up for themselves. We see a difference in how girls view themselves and how they see their roles in the family and the community.

ABDOU AZIZ MANDIANG: I’m a … youth and adolescents sexual health repdodcution advisor but my problem is how young people can acces our services (counselling …) sometimes if you make some activities with youth their problems are : what time you open ,
how cost the services …how strategies you can develop for [them in your clinic] … it’s so expensive [and] generaly our clinic close at 4 PM and youth are at school…
Wendy Baldwin: There is no simple answer to how services can best be made available to young people. The needs (and the services) may be different in rural and urban areas. However, it does appear that teens want to be treated with respect and have their privacy protected. But, how to fund that and how to actually provide the services at a time when young people can access them really depends on the local circumstances. This may be a time to talk with young people about how they would like to see services made available to them.

sagar dahal: How we can increase the use of health services by adolescent in the public health care setting ?
Wendy Baldwin: use of health services by adolescents can be a challenge. Clearly, adolescents need services that are available when they can plausibly come since many will be in school or working. to identify those times requires local knowledge and information from adolescents (as opposed to just what adults may think about best times for adolescents). Also, adolescents will want to be treated with respect as they come with their questions and needs for services. Working through the challenges of young people making effective use of public health services is valuable for the impact it can have on their health as adolescents but also on the process of their learning positive health behaviors early in their adult lives.

Laurette Cucuzza: I am intereseted in making our programs more effective in terms of girls’ ability to access economic tools and generate income. CEDPA has had good success with the Better Life Options and Opportunity Model (which Pop Council evaluated), however, the skills girls learned were not always utilized effectively. How can we better link girls with economics opportunities such as banking/lending/savings beyond the current micro lending schemes? What structural changes do you think would give women and girls better access to these services?
Wendy Baldwin: what an excellent question! I agree that there have been advances in linking girls with economic tools, but think we should all feel challenged to make that linkage even stronger. It may be good to start with small steps to get adolescents linked to forms of income production that they find familiar; but we need to be looking ahead to bigger changes for them. We could start by looking at the measure we use for assessing programs; is the best measure of microfinance the rate at which loans are repaid? or should it be the rate at which larger loans are taken to grow a business? I believe that we need to begin early with adolescent girls to build their sense of the need to budget, learn financial skills, develop savings plans, assess livelihood options and support them in thinking about how they can advance their goals and contribute to their community. In general, i would say that the general level of education girls receive as well as the specific education they can obtain about thinking through the steps they would need to take would be of great benefit.

Issa Almasarweh: Two key reasons behind poverty among women in LDCs:
1) Immediate childbearing after marriage causes early withdrawal of females from the labor market and deprives them from life time salary and later on retirement pension.
2) Depriving girls from their right of inheritance of their parents’ and husbands’ assets.
Wendy Baldwin: While you did not specifically pose a question, let me comment on your observation. I agree that very early childbearing (which is typically within marriage) can have negative economic effects. In some settings the view is that such early childbearing is inevitable and the efforts to reach young women with family planning messages and services focuses on their after the first birth. However, there are indications that young couples may be receptive to delaying a first birth and that may permit some additional education for the young woman and an opportunity for the couple to settle into married life before settling into parenthood. And so i would encourage us to think about how to reach adolescents before they reach the age of marriage (and that depends on the setting) and during the early stages of married life.

Cait Lutfy: Do you know of and can you give any information about programs to help girls attain self-sufficiency and self-worth in the Middle East. Can you compare the barriers and implementation for programs in both of these countries? How critical are public health initiatives such as family planning or even teaching girls proper nutrition and sanitation practices for programs that promote self-sufficiency?
Wendy Baldwin: I would encourage you to look at the Population Council work in Egypt. In the Ishraq program girls were provided with girl-only spaces and a mentor, literacy and numeracy education, health information and skills as well as an opportunity for sports. These comprehensive programs are an ideal way to include teaching about nutrition and sanitation.
http://www.popcouncil.org/projects/40_IshraqSafeSpacesGirls.asp this innovative program is expanding in Upper Egypt and is part of a broader program of work called “safe spaces”which seeks to build assets of adolescent girls.

Elaine Murphy: Hello Wendy! What in your view is the relationship between early marriage, self-worth and self-sufficiency? What more than propoting girls’ education, especially secondary education, can be done to discourage early marriage? Thanks! Elaine
Wendy Baldwin: Greetings Elaine! Early marriage is frequently before the legal age at marriage and may be not just arranged,but forced. In recent work in six states in India we found that 19% of the girls were married by age 15 and 49% by age 18, which is the legal age for girls to marry. Most marriages were arranged and in 2/3 of the cases the girls met their husbands on their wedding day. These certainly do not sound like the circumstances to foster self-sufficiency! And, as you know, early marriage is the death knell to continued education. But you are correct that we need to think about these together. And so, i would suggest that we look at programs, such as Annabel Erulker’s work in Ethiopia http://www.popcouncil.org/projects/100_BerhaneHewanEthiopia.as. Here we see a program that has been successful in offsetting early marriage. This is difficult work and requires a community approach. Since so many girls in this setting do marriage at very young ages, there is also a part of the program to assist young married girls. When we seek to help families and communities delay the marriages of their young adolescent girls we do need to do it in the context of other alternatives for them, such as schooling.

Viola Nilah Nyakato: Attaining self worth and self-sufficiency is a complex issue that is rooted in the socioeconomic dynamics such as gendered roles in most of our communities in Africa. My puzzling question is how the unequal gendered division of household labour limits girls’ self worth?
Wendy Baldwin: You raise an interesting question. There surely is not one path to feelings of self worth and self-sufficiency. However, highly gendered roles can limit the options that individuals see for themselves. Also, people tend to prepare for the future that they see for themselves. However, it is surprising that with relatively modest interventions to help girls build some personal assets (literacy, health behaviors, financial capabilities) you do start to see girls with more far reaching plans for their futures. There seems to be considerable power in providing a mentor and an opportunity to discuss and strategize about the future that can be quite beneficial, even in settings where girls begin in highly gendered settings. It is too early to say what the long term benefits of such programming will be, but i certainly would not give up hope on such an approach. It is useful to remember that in such settings the issue is not just the girl’s view of her future, but the views held by her parents and the males and the community at large that affects how girls develop a sense of self worth.

Epokor Michael Kudjoe: This is a major problem in developing countries. … I believe there should be a birds eye watch over already established NGO’s … so that at least we know that they are doing their work deligently to help the girls. I strongly believe that governmental agencies, NGO’s can be equiped with educational materials and others to educate and solve issues concerning cultural, social, educational and emplyment matters concerning girls. But the question is how?
Wendy Baldwin: I think we all can agree that the challenges faced by adolescent girls rest on complex social and cultural bases. It sometimes seems daunting to think that improving the lives of girls might involve challenging such broad issues. However, i believe that programs to advance girls’ wellbeing can but built with an understanding of such factors and also an appreciation of the skills and assets that girls need now. You raise a question about what existing services are actually doing. One strategy that the Council researchers have found useful is to assess who is currently receiving services. Many programs that are focusing on “youth” may really be reaching older adolescents, males rather than females or those who are actually less disadvantaged. So, i would suggest that a first step is try to harness interest in youth to determine whether it is reaching those most in need.

Sanjay Mishra: I am completely agree that girls aged from teenage up to 20 are in very pathetic condition despite so many welfare schemes and other efforts by the government and other NGOs especially in Indian subcontinent. In my opinion socio-economic and cultural factors are more responsible. I do not [know] what policies are newly framed to change the situation. … to some extent lower middle class now have started sending girls to school and giving equality, but ultimately the mindset needs to … change as still they have the feelings that girls have to go to [another’s] home. Next issue comes that still girls are more involved in the household related activities despite going to school … and even have no time to open the books at home, I have personally seen in many households where mothers are highly ambitious. Nutrtional and reproductive health also is a very big issue. I would like here to know that is there change/modifications based on new reseraches to change their status? In African continent also girls are in very very pathetic condition, they are easily hunt of sugar daddies and left with very meagre [options].
Wendy Baldwin: At the Population Council, Shireen Jejeebhoy, has led a team of researchers to document adolescent experiences in six states in India. These surveys do present a rather daunting picture for adolescent girls. Many are married at very young ages and 25% have never been to school. While education is an important step for improving girls’ life chances, it is not the only investment that is needed. We need to continue to understand the dynamics of family life that so often curtail options for girls. And, while it is important to develop and test interventions, it is also important to shine a light of data onto problems. By presenting unbiased data we can help policymakers and those responsible for programs to begin to rethink where and how investments are being made.
http://www.popcouncil.org/projects/101_YouthInIndiaNeedsStudy.asp. I think you will find this study very interesting. We are pleased by the extent of interest in the data that can help inform policies and programs.

Christopher Mwaijonga: An Agenda for Action: The Adolescent Girls Need Urgent Attention and Policy Action….If WE want to change the world and our countries, we have to invest in adolescent girls. … we owe girls our support as integral, yet overlooked, members of the human family. Investing in girls is also the smart thing to do. If the 600 million adolescent girls in the developing world today follow the path of school dropout, early marriage and early childbirth, and vulnerability to sexual violence and HIV/AIDS, then cycles of poverty will only continue. And my question, what does it take to implement what is commonly known to be beneficial to the girls, our own daughters, and indeed to the nation at large, and future generations? If countries are failing, what about the international community, what is their role? Adolescent girls constitute about, if not more than one in every eight of a country’s and world’s population. Their sheer number surely deserves some attention! Do we need a global summit to deliberate on it and come up with some binding global consensus regarding the future of girls, within nations and globally? I will go for it.
Wendy Baldwin: I strong endorse your view of the importance of investing in adolescents, especially in adolescent girls since they are often highly disadvantaged. One of the challenges is to make the case that investing in early adolescence has health and economic and social benefits. Many investment strategies look for fairly immediate payoff…will family planning be adopted? will microloans be repaid? but, the bigger challenge is to invest in adolescents years before those are relevant questions to be asking. We need to ask whether adolescent girls are in school and, if not, how can the schools be improved and how can alternatives be provided to support girls education. It may be years before that investment “pays off”, but we need to invest early and then the girls, their families and society can reap benefits for decades to come. I would hope to see greater attention in development plans to the needs of adolescents, and attention that recognized the importance of intermediate outcomes, such as schooling and delayed marriage.

Jasmin Dirinpur: My two questions are: Will involvement of men in family planning result in improved reproductive health outcomes for women? How can we increase the validity of self reported sexual behavior among boys and girls?
Wendy Baldwin: You raise an important issue since the use of family planning does involve both the man and the woman. I strongly endorse the concept of greater male involvement, but that involvement can take many forms. Men can take responsibility for their own actions through condom use and men can support their partners’ use of contraceptives. There can be direct and indirect involvement and each helps to reduce the barriers women may face in seeking to delay, space or limit their pregnancies and protect their health. The validity of self-reported sexual behavior is also an interesting question. many, many studies find that men report more partners than do women. At the Population Council we are testing different ways to ask about sexual behavior (through audio-computer assisted interviewing). We probably need to consider that men and women may have different ideas of what constitutes a “partner”. If a woman has been coerced into having sex she may be less likely to report that experience. We are not sure; but it is probably too simplistic to say that men over-report and women under-report.

Dr. Anima Sharma: Dear Ms. Baldwin, You have chosen a very pertinent topic for the discussion. The age old suppression of women’s rights as a human being and the member of the society has resulted in their lower self-esteem and they have accepted the role of the passive member of the society, somewhat willingly. In fact, a number of campaignes and programmes have been launched for the empowerment of women but the problems surrounding women are so deep rooted that these programmes and campaignes show a very limited impact. The factors hindering the impact are primarily sociocultural along with other factors like socioeconomic, political and religious too. In this milieu even a small dent means a lot. In India the problems of the tribal, rural/ agrarian and the urban women vary a great deal. I have worked among all these societies hence here, I donot have a question but a suggestion that while we should make programmes and plans, keeping in mind the local needs as well as the sociocultural environment, using the locally available human/ other resources. In the absence of these most of the time we fail to achieve the desired results. Do you agree with me?
Wendy Baldwin: you have focused on the often deep social and cultural roots to the challenges we see facing women today. Culture is a setting for behaviors and clearly we need to understand and respect it, even when we would work to see changes in the options and opportunities for women. Your suggestion is—as i understand it—to involve women at the local level in the activities to broaden the assets and opportunities available for women. I do agree, and that is exactly what we try to do in reaching adolescents. For example, when we establish programs for adolescent girls we seek mentors from the community—women who can serve as role models as well as teachers. Within the programs we look for the girls who might able to become the next generation of mentors. This helps to ground the program in the community.

Bresena: What would be the best way to make them feel better, if they have to work all day to maintain their families (parents, brothers and sisters etc.)? How can they gain self-confidence if they don’t live the same life as their teenage friends of their country, whose parents may not have economic problems? What would be the best policy n order to help them finish school and be an important part of the society? Is this a social,or an economic cause, or both of them? Thank you.
Wendy Baldwin: In your question you point to the fact that for some adolescents they see that their friends who are better off economically have greater opportunities. That observation leads to the economic underpinnings of many of the challenges we see for adolescent girls. Even when school is “free” there may be costs of uniforms, books, etc. and by going to school the family may lose unpaid labor from the adolescent. there are innovative cash transfer programs that are seeking to offset that economic cost of schooling. Being able to go to school is critically important for adolescents. This is a time for them to build up skills they will need in adulthood. Schools need to be of decent quality, accessible, and safe. When adolescents have the opportunity and support to complete school they and their families and society will benefit.

Isaac Tibenkana Sempungu: I entirely concur with you when you say adolescent girls in developing countries are especially confronted with the problem of limited life options to further their education. In Uganda my home country, Many adolescent girls miss out on Higher Education for those few that make it to A-level anyway. What do you suggest should be done to help girls that have not been able to advance their academic education to University and other Tertiary institutions and yet they would very much wish to do so? Especially in a country like Uganda?
Wendy Baldwin: I am very pleased that you asked about higher education. There is a great deal of attention paid to getting girls into and through primary school that sometimes we forget the importance of higher education. Now, of course, in countries where primary education is not universal, that needs to be addressed. However, when we ask questions about how a country will participate in the global economy or how women can help to take on leadership positions, we need to also address higher education. At lower grades we have found that “catch up” programs are valuable. There will be girls who are bright and who want to continue with education, but who have dropped out—sometimes for family reasons and sometimes because school was not accessible or safe or of high quality. I would suggest that we pay more attention to a whole array of “catch up” programs at different levels to help avoid losing out on the talent and skills of citizens who need additional education or training.

Dr. Yasmin Siddiqua: To my understanding, apart from formal academic education girls also need to have life skills, negotiation skills and communication skills to attain self-worth and self-sufficiency in their life. These factors are very much related to their family structure and the gender norm in the family. In a country like Bangladesh, girls are taught not to be vocal, to be tolerant and to sacrifice (if not compromise with) their desires, their education and their ambition. How do you think, based on your experience, gender norm can be challenged (or if it is needed at all)? How do you think ‘men involvement’ can be ensured, based on your experience, to help girls attaining ‘self-worth’ and ‘self-sufficiency’?
Wendy Baldwin: In the programs that we have conducted in different parts of the world we find that life skills, negotiation skills and communication skills are very important for adolescent girls. Thank you for asking about this. In these programs there may be a literacy component, numeracy, financial capabilities, health and also life skills or leadership components. Also, these programs help to support girls in forming and keeping active social networks. Many poor adolescent girls in cities and rural areas lack strong social networks. Interestingly, in our Guatemala program i have heard one of the mothers say that it is easier to talk with her daughter now that she has been in the program because the daughter has learned how to speak up for herself. These are fundamental skills and they can be taught. Your question about male involvement is an interesting one as well. While the girls are typically more disadvantaged in terms of education and mobility and life options, the boys in those communities will eventually be their husbands and partners. We are exploring how best to involve them in learning some of the fundamental skills that couples need to manage their adult lives together. our experience in Ethiopia tells us that programs can help to support men in thinking about their behaviors and how that affects their wives.

Angela McCracken: My doctoral research with adolescent girls in urban Mexico led me to conclude that highly sexualized media (like music videos) is changing norms for girls’ behavior and ideas about beauty and sexuality. This is also one of the areas around which they suffer the most anguish about their self-worth, so they are looking for guidance, which they often find in the media. I wonder if the Population Council has come across anything similar in its program areas, and whether you see self-worth programming as a broader strategy to combat not just local but global pressures on girls’ sexuality?
Wendy Baldwin: One aspect of this issue is the ability of young people to develop critical thinking skills and to be able to apply them to messages or ideas about gender. Building these critical thinking skills specifically about gender could help young people analyze the messages that they are being give.

Aneel Shahzad: Studying the women’s and especially adolescent’s status and roles in the developing countries we come to know that even educated girls are not achieving their gols to become a part of development. the main reasons are culture and gender gap in the developing countries but [how] do you think … we can solve this problem [so] they become a part of development and promote gender equity even when they get very low employment and decision making opportunities for their own futu