By: Madeline Taskier, Partnership Coordinator at Women Deliver
The Preston Auditorium at the World Bank is an unlikely place for a hip-hop concert--especially a concert with a significant focus on women and girls. However, yesterday I attended the Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI) Event hosted by the World Bank and the Nike Foundation where energy and optimism flowed through the venue as passionate activists, performers, and leaders came to celebrate progress for adolescent girls.
Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls; Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank Group; Anne Hathaway, Actor and Girl Effect Advocate; Christy Turlington, CARE Ambassador, Founder of the Every Mother Counts Campaign and Supermodel; Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director of the World Bank; and Emmanuel Jal, former child-soldier and hip-hop artist spoke or performed at the event.
Launched in 2008, the AGI is part of the World Bank Group’s Gender Action Plan to increase women’s economic opportunities by improving their access to the labor market, land, technology, infrastructure and credit services. Over 230 million girls aged 15 - 24 are neither in school nor at work, halting economic progress and shrinking individual opportunity. The AGI allows “young girls to have a fair chance in leading a productive, healthy life,” according to Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank Group.
Piloted in Liberia, the AGI has expanded its programs since 2008 to 6 more countries: Afghanistan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Jordan, Nepal, Rwanda, and South Sudan. So far, the AGI has directly benefited over 20,000 adolescent girls in these countries. In 2011, the programs will extend to Haiti and Yemen.
Under the Initiative, different employment trainings, business skills development, and loan programs are implemented in the project countries depending on the conditions of female educational attainment, early marriage or pregnancy, and work force participation. In Afghanistan, only 21% of girls complete primary school and an estimated 52% of young women marry before age 18. The AGI programs in Afghanistan therefore emphasize continuing education and job access to delay marriage.
Girls under 15 are 5 times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. By economically empowering young women—increasing their education opportunities, helping them open businesses, expanding their income generation—families are less likely to marry off their productive daughters which will inevitably delay pregnancy and reduce the risks of complications or death in childbirth. Economic empowerment during adolescent years also leads to increase healthcare access giving young girls information about their bodies and the ability to make choices about their sexual health.
At the event, we heard from some of these extraordinary young women who have benefited from the AGI trainings and loan programs. Phennapha, a young woman from Lao DPR, discussed how her training with Vital Voices, a partner of AGI, has made her a model for adolescent girls in developing countries. “I help girls find jobs because I want them to be able to create a life equal to others. From my work and experience, Lao women still face many problems that still do not have solution.” She highlighted how education of adolescent girls prevents human trafficking, early marriage, and poverty.
Through the AGI Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women (EPAG), Kebbeh, one of the trainees from Liberia, learned how to earn, save, and budget money, deal with customers, and become a leader in her community. She recently opened a second hand clothing shop, which supports her family and prevents her from being married off early. She proudly announced to the audience that she is now seen as a valuable member of the household with a voice.
The AGI has been a successful initiative thus far because it invests in the potential of women during their adolescent years. Maria Eitel, President and CEO of the Nike Foundation, pointed to the gaps that need to be bridged. “A girl has one asset she starts with: her body. Education is a necessary asset, but not a sufficient one. She needs the right health care and economic empowerment to prosper.”
And indeed, girls like Phennapha and Kebbeh avoid early marriage, pregnancy, HIV infection and continue in school because the AGI has given them microfinance and education opportunities during this critical period. Leaders from the AGI countries and other donor countries are invested in this replicable program strategy and are committed to national scale-ups.
The program closed with an inspiring performance from Emmanuel Jal, hip-hop artist and youth activist, who invited the young “superwomen” speakers onto the stage. Audience members lit up as they watched the young women from Nepal, Liberia, South Sudan, and Lao DPR dance with the Ngozi, Managing Director of the World Bank and witnessed a new kind of girls’ empowerment—one that will stay on the global agenda.
Watch the Girl Effect Video: