Girls deserve equal opportunities to thrive worldwide. Yet, they face challenges that threaten their well-being and seriously limit their potential. The barriers holding back girls’ progress include early marriage, trafficking for sex work or labor, disproportionate time caring for siblings and managing domestic duties, fewer educational opportunities, and limited health facilities, including lack of sanitary provisions for menstrual hygiene management.
For girls to succeed, special attention needs to be paid to the social, cultural, and economic roadblocks in their way. In 2012, Plan launched its Because I Am a Girl (BIAAG) campaign with the aim to reach four million girls over four years through projects that protect vulnerable girls living in poverty. Because I Am a Girl is a broad community-based strategy aimed at ensuring that marginalized girls have the tools, skills, and assets to reach their full potential.
These programs and the global advocacy and awareness raised through the initiative have advanced the cause of girls’ rights. Evidence of impact from the first phase of the BIAAG campaign now provide the foundation for the next generation of programs and policies that will lift girls out of poverty and enable them to contribute fully to their communities and their countries, claiming their voice and personal power.
One example comes from the Plan work in Burkina Faso through two programs: BRIGHT and BRIDGE. Together, BRIGHT and BRIDGE improved the educational outcomes of nearly 40,000 girls and boys. BRIGHT raised girls’ primary school enrollment by 20 percent and improved Math and French test scores for both girls and boys. The BRIDGE program built on those successes and improved both the access to and quality of post-primary schools for 12,967 post-primary aged children, including 6,159 girls.
In 2016, U.S. government-funded impact evaluations found impressive lasting effects. Schools previously part of the BRIGHT program continued to be more accessible and have better infrastructure and resources, more teachers, more grades, and sustained girl-friendly characteristics when compared to schools in other villages. Child marriage is also 6 percent lower in BRIGHT villages, translating to more than 1,500 early marriages prevented.
The passion and energy of the girls involved in these programs points to reason for positive outcomes like these. The Plan approach to girls’ empowerment is not to do things FOR girls, but to engage WITH girls, following their lead and supporting them as they chart their own course. In addition, Plan works with girls and other stakeholders to clear the pitfalls in their path through advocacy for legal reform to solidify their rights; social and behavior change communication to alter norms that limit their movement or options; and increased public expenditure for social services appropriately tailored for girls’ needs.
The girls’ voices are loud and clear. Nupur, a Plan Girl Advocate from Bangladesh, said so powerfully at a recent gender summit, “You need to hear more from us. You need to know the ground realities. You need to find the reasons behind the reasons. We need more girl-friendly programs. We need all the amazing laws to be implemented. So, today I stand here to ask you to please join with us to build a world where girls are treated as human beings.”
Heeding her call, and as a follow-up to the BIAAG campaign, in 2016 Plan launched the BIAAG 2.0 strategy to advance girls’ rights, with the following overarching goal: communities where girls and young women are free from violence, discrimination, and harmful practices, where they learn, lead, decide, and thrive. This work is in keeping with Plan International USA’s commitment to ensure our programs are gender transformative, meaning that they challenge the underpinning norms to promote positions of social and political influence for women and girls.
Under BIAAG 2.0 Plan International USA focuses on five priority areas:
- Sexual and reproductive health
- Youth employment
- Anti-trafficking and protection
- Social accountability
With the Plan Federation adopting a new global strategy that advances girls’ rights as a stated priority, there is greater investment and opportunity for creating positive change. Plan International USA is using proven approaches to adopt and scale global programming with a strong evidence base. In addition to deserving to realize their basic human rights, investing in girls has significant returns. According to the Population Council, evidence shows that investing in the large and rising generation of 10-14-year-old girls could yield a substantial demographic dividend. Significantly they found that intergenerational poverty, high and unwanted fertility, and poor health have common roots in the early adolescence of the poorest girls in the poorest communities.
Based on findings such as these, Plan International USA is committed to working with a range of partners, including adolescent girls, to drive meaningful and sustainable change.