Making the Case

Video length: 42:03

Presenter: Judith Bruce, Senior Associate and Policy Analyst, Population Council

Presentation: Making the Case for Adolescent Girls

This lecture lays out six key reasons for making specific, measurable investments in girls. Whether the target audience is donors, policymakers, NGOs, or communities, these six arguments substantiate the overwhelmingly positive returns of direct investments in girls to girls themselves, to communities, and to nations.


Through such mechanisms as the Millennium Development Goals, poverty reduction strategies, and female-and-youth-“friendly” national legal structures, numerous promises are made to provide girls with equitable rights and assets. Only rarely, however, does this translate into local realities. To the extent these promises are fulfilled, they are present in girls’ walking community (e.g., school, post office); however, girls often have no access to them. Advocacy is a necessary but not sufficient mechanism for changing girls’ realities. It is essential to move from advocating for girls to implementing asset-building girls programs to actualize these promises.

Six reasons to make investments in girls:

1. Ending intergenerational poverty

  • A strong economic base cannot be built to end intergenerational poverty without building girls’ social and economic assets.
  • Resources in female hands are often far more valuable than these same resources in male hands, because of females’ much greater tendency to invest resources in the family.
  • A high and likely rising proportion of girls will be single mothers and possibly sole supporters of themselves and their children. Investing in girls is not simply a question of economic justice, but of economic effectiveness as well.

2. Providing universal primary education

  • Although the male/female gap is narrowing, two-thirds of those who have never been to school or are currently out of school are female. Girls’ education, particularly during adolescence, is the best “development” investment in terms of human capital formation, economic return, and justice.
  • Educated girls are more likely to marry later (at legal age—after 18), have better maternal and child health outcomes, and be more inclined to invest in the health and education of their children.

3. Promoting gender equality

  • Dedicated efforts to reach girls early, ideally before puberty, are a crucial input into gender equality, providing protection to those girls at risk of the most serious human rights abuses (trafficking, female genital mutilation, exploitative domestic work, child marriage, forced sexual relations). These conditions are often closely related to high and unwanted fertility, maternal mortality, and HIV infection.

4. Reducing maternal mortality

  • Investments in the poorest girls in the poorest countries are likely to reduce maternal mortality.  Half of all first births in the developing world are to adolescent girls. The girls who are marginalized by their exclusion from school, residence in poor rural and ethnic-minority communities, subject to child marriage and harmful traditional practices, and with limited access to health services and social support are the same girls who, as the youngest first-time mothers, have the highest risks of maternal and child morbidity and mortality.

5. Reducing the increasingly young and persistently female HIV epidemic

  • Typical the female-to-male ratio of new HIV infections among persons aged 15–24 across sub-Saharan Africa is 3 to 1, and some countries are reporting ratios of 5 to 1 (Malawi) and 8 to 1 (South Africa).  Without dedicated prevention, mitigation, and treatment efforts, marginalized and young females are likely to bear a disproportionate share of HIV infection.

6. Rebalancing the resource/population equation

Investments in girls reduce population growth by:

  • Delaying marriage and childbearing
  • Decreasing the need for large families as security
  • Increasing  girls’ ability to adopt health-seeking behaviors, including early and effective contraceptive use, and safer maternity practices
  • Empowering  vital intergenerational investment in children’s, especially girls’, education

In summary, investments in girls uniquely influence both sides of the resources/population equation by increasing the overall size of the economic pie (and ensuring it is more equitably distributed) and reducing the dependency burden (by increasing age at first birth and reducing the poverty-driven demand for children).

Additional Resources