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Accelerating adolescent girls' education and empowerment: a call for action to the G7



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Catalysing global action on adolescent girls’ education and empowerment is essential to achieving the Sustainable
Development Goals and establishing foundations for broader economic growth and prosperity. To achieve this, the G7
Whistler Declaration on Adolescent Girls can play a key role by recognising the second decade of life as an age of opportunity
and strategically investingthrough secondary school and beyondin the world’s unprecedented 1.2 billion adolescents.
Scale of the challenge
1. Despite progress – and known spill over impacts of girls’ education on health, nutrition and economic
development – nearly 100 million girls remain out of school globally due to discriminatory gender norms. The
most disadvantaged girls, including those with disabilities, ethnic and linguistic minorities, and those living in remote or
conflict-affected areas, are most likely to be denied their rights to an education.
2. Recent improvements in access to school have not been accompanied by investments in quality instruction
and safety. Schools in LMICs too rarely provide age-appropriate, gender-responsive learning environments that
support girls’ acquisition of academic, social-emotional and practical skills needed to transition successfully into
3. The cost of providing universal primary and secondary education in low- and lower-middle income countries
is expected to balloon to US $340 billion in 2030. An annual funding gap of US$39 billion must be met by aid, and
underpinned by a coordinated global finance and accountability architecture.
Key actions for the G7
1. Move beyond global and national aggregates to focus on “leaving no girl behind”, ensuring that the poorest
and geographically remote, minorities, those with disabilities, adolescent wives and mothers have access to quality
education that supports them to both aspire and achieve. Given girls’ particular vulnerabilities in conflict-affected
settings, lessons regarding rapid scale up of education services from recent conflicts need to be harnessed and
funding for education in humanitarian contexts tripled from 2% to 6% to support these.
2. Improve educational quality by focusing on teacher training, tackling age- and gender-based violence in
schools, and delivering a broad menu of skills relevant to girls’ real-world needs, including communication and
leadership, technical and digital skills, and practical information on puberty and adolescent transitions.
3. Increase aid to education six-fold to tackle critical funding gaps, prioritising low-income countries and taking
a coordinated, inter-sectoral approach focused on developing the multiple capabilities adolescent girls
require to become educated, healthy, empowered, economically contributing adults. This will require strengthening
international frameworks to measure progress, appointing gender champions at senior levels within countries and
donor organisations, and investing at least 5% of programme budget targets in evidence about “what works”.
June 2018
Policy Note
Accelerating adolescent girls’ education and
empowerment: a call for action to the G7
Photo: © Plan International / Petterik Wiggers
1 The investment case for a
focus on adolescent girls
Adolescence as a critical intervention
Over the past decade, adolescence has become
increasingly seen as an ‘age of opportunity’ (Sheehan et
al., 2017; Steinberg, 2015; UNFPA, 2014). A wide range of
actors – from neuroscientists to development economists
to United Nations (UN) agencies – have begun urging
parents, school communities and national governments
to look past the traditional ‘deficit’ model of adolescence
and focus instead on how children’s rapid maturation during
the second decade of life can be leveraged to alter and
accelerate their adult trajectories. Research suggests
that benefits are especially strong for adolescent girls,
who are still far more likely than boys to be denied their
rights – including the right to an education – despite the
commitments laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights
of the Child (UNCRC), the Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW),
and the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) (UNFPA, 2014;
UNICEF, 2011).
For the development community, the growing focus on
adolescents is in part due to their sheer numbers: more
than 1.2 billion people – one-sixth of the world’s population
– are aged between 10 and 19 (UNICEF, 2011). Nearly 90%
of these young people live in developing countries, and this
percentage is expected to increase further given that birth
rates in much of sub-Saharan Africa mean that up to half of
the population there are under the age of 18 (UNFPA, 2014).
Notably, many of these ‘young’ countries are also among
the most gender-inequitable (in terms of the United Nations
Development Programme (UNDP) Gender Inequality Index)
and tend to have the worst educational outcomes for girls
(UNFPA, 2014).
In the global North, the recent focus on adolescence has
largely been driven by changes in our understanding of how
the human brain develops. Rather than highlighting what
adolescents lack – i.e. a functional frontal lobe and an ability
to prioritise longer-term outcomes – research is increasingly
concentrating on the ways in which adolescents respond to
cognitive, emotional and social stimuli. It has found that the
threats and rewards that adolescents consider most salient
are social and are reinforced through peer interactions,
and that adolescents’ brains appear uniquely sensitive
to memory formation. Taken together, these new insights
open up possibilities for designing interventions that can
not only support young people through the difficult and
often risky years of adolescence, but also optimise their
outcomes in adulthood (Fuhrmann et al., 2015; Crone and
Dahl, 2012).
Photo: © Vicki Francis/Department for International Development
Discriminatory social norms hinder
adolescent girls’ trajectories
Recognition of the centrality of social-emotional learning
during adolescence has coincided with a growing global
understanding of how social norms shape beliefs and
behaviours, which has in turn led to the emerging consensus
that adolescence is a critical time for socialisation into
gender roles (Kågesten et al., 2016; McCarthy et al., 2016).
While the impacts of social norms on adolescents in general
cannot be overstated, in the global South, girls bear the
brunt of the burden. As boys see their physical and social
worlds expand as they grow up, girls see their worlds shrink,
as they are all too often required to take on an ever-growing
burden of household chores, leave school and marry –
abandoning not only their educational and career plans
but also their mobility and friendships (Harper et al., 2018;
Kågesten et al., 2016; Hallman et al., 2015). Capitalising
on this turning point in girls’ lives – and using it to open up
rather than close off their potential – is in many ways a
once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Taking action now is likely
to bring pay-offs not just for individual girls but also for
their families, communities and, ultimately, will contribute
to achieving national and international development goals
(see Box 1) (Kågesten et al., 2016).
Box 1: Why investing in adolescent girls’ education is critical to international development
Addressing adolescent girls’ education deficits is one of the critical challenges facing the international donor community for
three key reasons:
Millions of girls are affected: In 2016 there were 263 million young people out of school (UNESCO, 2016). Of those, 61 million
were adolescents of lower-secondary age (11–14 years) and 139 million were adolescents of upper-secondary age (15–17
years). Slightly more out-of-school adolescents are boys (51%) than girls (49%), on account of differential birth rates and
boys’ greater involvement in work activities outside the home. However, international averages hide considerable variation at
the regional and national levels (UNGEI, 2018). In the world’s poorest countries, such as Chad – where there are only 46 girls
enrolled in secondary school for every 100 boys (Winthrop and McGivney, 2014) – girls remain starkly disadvantaged. Across
all low-income countries, 41% of girls of lower-secondary age, but only 36% of boys, are out of school (UNESCO, 2017a). At the
upper-secondary level, those figures rise to 67% and 58% respectively. Critically, of all out-of-school children, girls are more
likely than boys to never have the opportunity to attend school: in 2016, 10% of primary school-aged girls (6–11 years) were out
of school globally, compared to 8% of boys the same age (UNESCO, 2018a).
The economic dividends are significant and well-evidenced: While education is critical for all children, evidence suggests that
the economic benefits of investing in girls’ education are especially strong because of how those investments unfold, not only in
girls’ own lives but also through their contribution to their children, families and communities. Indeed, evidence suggests that the
success of the SDGs in many ways depends on the investments the global community makes in adolescent girls (UNGEI, 2018;
World Bank, 2018b). For example, it has been estimated that each year of primary school a girl completes raises her lifetime
adult wages by between 10% and 20% (PRB, 2013); and, due to the more complex skill set mastered in secondary school, each
year of secondary school she completes raises her adult wages by 25% (Schultz, 2002). In some countries, impacts are striking:
in Pakistan, for example, highly literate women were found to earn 95% more than women with minimal literacy, whereas the
differential for men was only 33% (Aslam et al., 2010). The impacts of women’s increased earning potential on household poverty
are substantial, because women have been found to spend 90% of their income on their families, compared to only 30%–40%
spent by men (Women Deliver, 2015). Impacts on national economies are also large. For every percentage point increase in girls’
education, a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) climbs 0.3% (Dollar and Gatti, 1999). Over time, this increment adds up. It
is estimated that by 2050, GDP losses due to a lack of universal education will equal $1.8 trillion for low-income countries alone
(International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, 2016).
Positive spillover effects on global health and nutrition outcomes are undisputed: The impacts of educating girls also
affects a wide range of health and nutrition outcomes. Shell-Duncan et al., (2016) note that education has been found to
be associated with the decline of FGM/C. The likelihood a woman allows her daughter to be cut diminishes as the mother’s
level of education rises. In the case of HIV risks, in South Africa, girls who had not completed high school were 3.75 times
more likely to be HIV positive than their peers who had completed secondary school (Pettifor et al., 2008). Similarly, if all
girls were to complete secondary school, child marriage rates would plunge by an estimated two-thirds (Global Partnership
for Education, 2014), child mortality would decline by 49%, and 26% fewer children would suffer from stunting (UNESCO,
2014). Indeed, the impact of girls’ education is so strong that effects are visible with even a single year more education. For
example, for every additional year of maternal education, children stay in school for 0.3 more years (Bhalotra et al., 2013)
and child mortality rates due to pneumonia drop 14% (Gakidou, 2013). Educating girls is also critical to improving community
health, given that 75% of health workers are female (UNGEI, 2018), and critical to future gains in education, given that in many
countries, today’s girls are tomorrow’s teachers (World Bank, 2012).
2 Barriers to girls’ education
The advent of adolescence often results in the end of girls’
education for multiple, often inter-linked reasons:
Education-related costs often prevent parents
sending girls to secondary school: While there has been
strong progress in supporting girls to complete primary
school, in the absence of social protection that shifts some
education-related costs away from families, many parents
prevent girls attending secondary school because they
are unwilling to invest their limited financial resources
(UNGEI, 2018). Even when tuition is free, indirect costs
such as uniforms and school supplies are often more than
the poorest families can bear or are willing to spend on
their daughters, given that educating girls is seen as less
likely to translate into paid employment and subsequent
contributions back to the family than educating boys
(UNGEI, 2018; World Bank, 2012; UNICEF, 2011). Rural
girls are especially disadvantaged, given that secondary
schools in some countries tend to be located in urban areas
and thus require significant outlays for transportation or
boarding, which adds to parents’ concerns about girls
safety en route to or at school (Harper et al., 2018).
Time-consuming domestic and care-related
tasks negatively impact adolescent girls’ schooling:
Adolescent girls in many countries in the global South
find that their engagement with education tails off due to
increased domestic responsibilities as they grow older and
become more capable of substituting their own labour for
that of their mothers (Harper et al., 2018). Indeed, UNICEF
(2016) estimates that on a global basis, girls between the
ages of 5 and 14 spend 550 million hours a day on household
chores – 160 million more than boys. National-level data
supports these global patterns. In Rwanda, among children
aged 10–14, the average girl spends 4 hours more each week
on chores than the average boy (NISR, 2012), and by age 15,
this gap has risen to 6 hours. Girls’ greater responsibility for
household work has various implications for their schooling.
They are more likely to be late (because they are fetching
water), absent (because they are caring for siblings), and to
fail important examinations (because they are not allowed
time to study). In Ethiopia, for example, 55% of girls failed
the 2014 General School Leaving Certificate Examination
at end of 10th grade, compared to 39% of boys – despite
more lenient pass scores required of female students
(Ministry of Education, 2015).
Child marriage and early motherhood are key
barriers to adolescent girls’ education, especially for
adolescents aged 15+ years: Child marriage, which is
both a cause and a consequence of girls’ limited access
to secondary education (Brown, 2012), directly impacts
41,000 girls under the age of 18 every day (Wodon et al.,
2017). Indeed, despite recent progress in tackling child
marriage, in 2018, 40% of young women aged 20–24 living in
the least developed countries had married before reaching
adulthood, i.e. the age of 18, and 12% had married before the
age of 15 (UNICEF, 2018). Rates in some countries are far
higher than the global averages. In Niger, for example, three-
quarters of girls are married as children. In addition, although
child marriage rates globally are declining, there is evidence
that in some humanitarian contexts, they are increasing.
Among Syrian refugee girls in Jordan, for example, rates
rose from 12% in 2011 to 32% in 2014, as families desperate
to make ends meet married their under-age daughters to
(often older) men whom they believed could provide for
them (Girls Not Brides, 2017). Notably, while many girls
are withdrawn from school prior to marriage, others are
forcibly withdrawn explicitly for marriage (Brown, 2012); and
regardless of when they are pulled out of school, once they
are married, few return. In Nigeria, only 2% of married girls
are in school, compared to nearly 70% of their unmarried
peers (Brown, 2012). The 2016 Ethiopia Demographic and
Health Survey (DHS) found that married girls were out of
school because they were too busy with family life (47%)
or denied permission by their (usually significantly older)
husbands (30%) (CSA and ICF International, 2017). For
young brides who soon become young mothers, the law
can even prevent them from accessing their right to an
education. In Tanzania, for instance, schools regularly give
girls pregnancy tests, and 8,000 girls are expelled each
year due to pregnancy (UNGEI, 2018).
Gender- and age-based violence in schools also
precludes girls’ education: On a global basis, 732 million
children live in countries where corporal punishment at
school is allowed and 130 million adolescents between
the ages of 13 and 15 experience bullying (UNICEF, 2017).
Girls are particularly at risk. In some countries, violence is
directed at girls specifically because they are pursuing an
education. Sperling and Winthrop (2016) note that since
2009 there have been at least 70 countries where the
idea of girls‘ education has been attacked at least once.
They forced me to stop my education and made me marry.
. . . It is because I am female that I have been forced to
drop out from school. . . . I have suffered a lot as a result of
dropping out of my education. The chance to attend school
was given to my brother. (girl, 14 years, Ethiopia)
Children should be beaten when they are late at school.
However, it makes me sad when my daughter is beaten
because of not having some school materials. It is not her
fault that we are poor. (mother of adolescent girl, Rwanda)
In most countries, however, girls experience violence
not because they are pursuing an education per se, but
simply because they are girls (Parkes et al., 2017; Leach
et al., 2014). In Bangladesh, nearly 90% of girls aged 10–
18 have experienced sexual harassment (Bangladesh
National Women Lawyers’ Association (BNWLA) 2010
survey, cited in Islam, 2012) and in Uganda, up to two-
thirds of girls aged 15–19 have experienced physical or
sexual violence (UNICEF, 2011). Critically, school is not a
respite from this violence. Indeed, more than three-quarters
of students in Ghana and Senegal report that teachers
are the primary perpetrators of school violence (Fancy
et al., 2012). Research has found that in South Africa, for
example, nearly one-third of girls have been raped in or
near school (UNGEI, UNESCO and EFA, 2015) and that in
other countries, including Ghana and Tanzania, teachers
sometimes pressure girls to trade sex for grades (Sperling
and Winthrop, 2016; Morley, 2011). Notably, it is not only
the threat of violence that leads parents to keep their
adolescent daughters at home; parents’ actions are also
driven by discriminatory gender norms that place girls’
sexual purity at the centre of family honour, and girls may
find themselves homebound until they marry in order to
protect this (Harper et al., 2018).
A dearth of ‘girl-friendly’ school facilities may also
push girls out of school: In some contexts, girls require
separate classrooms (or shifts) and female teachers so
as to protect their reputation – or inspire them to different
futures (UNGEI, 2018; Marcus and Paige, 2016). In Liberia,
for example, where only 13% of primary teachers are
female, more than half of all girls are out of school in part
because they do not see education as obtainable for
females (UNESCO, 2017b). In other contexts, providing
sex-segregated toilets and menstrual supplies can make
a critical difference. In Bangladesh, 40% of girls missed an
average of three days at school each month due to their
periods (Alam et al., 2014) and in Ghana, supplying girls
with sanitary pads and puberty education improved their
classroom participation (Dolan et al., 2014). The idea of
girl-friendly schools also encompasses welcoming married
girls and young mothers back into the classroom, providing
them with childcare and catch-up tutorial support where
necessary (Sperling and Winthrop, 2016). Critically, given
the developmental imperatives of adolescence, providing
girls – and boys – with practical information about how their
bodies work, and giving them access to contraception, can
also eliminate a barrier to their continued schooling (High-
Impact Practices, 2014).
Photo: © Lindsay Mgbor/Department for International Development
Poor-quality teaching and environments also forces
adolescents (especially girls) out of school: Driven
in part by the large enrolment gains seen since 2000,
classrooms in many developing countries are overcrowded
and poorly supplied, with teachers receiving inadequate
age-appropriate training and support (World Bank, 2018b).
Indeed, learning outcomes in most LMICs remain low and in
some they have been declining (UNESCO, 2015a). A survey
of 27,000 girls in 12 countries, for example, found that the
literacy levels of 14- and 15-year-old girls were similar
to those expected of 7-year-olds (Coffey International
Development Ltd., 2015). Given the higher opportunity
costs of educating adolescent girls – who are both more
capable of earning their own income and of freeing up
their mothers’ time by substituting their own – and the
lower returns to investment that many parents see to girls
versus boys’ education, parents often pull girls out of school
if they see they are not learning (Sperling and Winthrop,
2016). In Ethiopia, for example, Jones et al. (2016) found
that a primary reason for girls’ school leaving (and child
marriage) was failure on the national exams for which most
rural students lack adequate preparation to pass given
resourcing at rural schools.
Limited attention to adolescent girls’ voices and
leadership: There is also too little attention paid to helping
adolescents, especially girls (given gendered norms that
encourage passivity), to master the soft skills (such as
communication, confidence and collaboration) that are
increasingly important to a successful transition to paid
employment in today’s more non-agricultural labour markets
(Sperling and Winthrop, 2016; Cunningham et al., 2016). The
overcrowded classrooms in many developing countries
rely solely on learning by rote (World Bank, 2018b; Sperling
and Winthrop, 2016). Teachers tend to prioritise boys over
girls for both question-asking opportunities and classroom
leadership positions; where projects and programmes do
provide opportunities for girls’ active participation, they
tend to be led by non-government organisations (NGOs),
are usually short term, small scale, and sometimes provided
to girls who need them the least (Marcus and Page, 2016).
In Viet Nam, for example, Jones et al. (2015) found that
children’s and girls’ club places were often allocated to the
highest- performing students and that the specific threats
facing adolescent girls (e.g child marriage or marriage by
kidnapping) were often not prioritised even in rights-based
curricula. Supporting girls to grow their own voices not only
lengthens their educational trajectories and improves their
learning outcomes, as they are better able to bargain with
their parents to stay in school and have time to study, but
also reduces their odds of child and forced marriage and
gender-based violence, as they are better able to articulate
their own aspirations and protect themselves (Harper et
al., 2018). The impacts of girls’ gaining more voice extend
to governance as well. Research in 18 sub-Saharan African
countries has found that those with at least a primary
education are 1. 5 times more likely to support democracy
than those with no education (UNICEF, 2015).
Weak linkages between school curricula and labour
market demands serve as a further disincentive to
parental investment in adolescent girls’ schooling:
Parents’ commitment to their daughters’ education is
also shaped by the reality that girls’ and women’s access
to paid employment is far more limited than that of boys
and men. Unemployment rates for girls and young women
are significantly higher than those of their male peers –
11.5% versus 9.3% for all low-income countries and 15.2%
versus 12.8% for LMICs in 2014, with particularly high
rates in the Middle East and North Africa (47.5% versus
25.2%) (World Bank, 2018a). Where adolescent girls do
find employment, they are disproportionately likely to be
confined to either agriculture or the informal labour market
in general, and domestic work in particular (UN Women,
2015; Perrons, 2014; Nanda et al., 2013). The International
Labour Organization (ILO) (2013) estimates that nearly
10% of all employed 15–17-year-old girls are working as
domestic workers – jobs which do not require investment
in secondary education.
Schools have also done a poor job in providing
access and supporting quality education for the most
marginalised girls – including the poorest girls, those
from ethnic and linguistic minorities, refugees, and
girls with disabilities: In Ethiopia, for example, only 11%
of poor rural girls complete primary school, compared to
85% of rich urban boys (UNESCO, 2015b). In Viet Nam,
only 3.4% of Hmong girls are enrolled in upper-secondary
school, compared to 66% of their ethnic majority peers
According to Hmong people, 9th and 12th grade are the
same, they don’t need an education level, they just need a
person who is hard working to marry. (mother, Viet Nam)
When girls fail to get promoted to the next grade level, their
parents worry that they will be idle and switch to practice
sexual activities. (girl, 13 years, Ethiopia)
Men and boys are more confident. It is the reason why
boys are the class representatives while the girls are the
deputies. When a girl represents a class, it’s taken as a
favour. (girl, Rwanda)
(UNFPA, 2011). In Nigeria, 97% of poor Hausa-speaking girls
between the ages of 17 and 22 have fewer than two years
of education (Romaine, 2013). Conflict also sharply limits
girls’ access to education (Pereznieto and Magee, 2017;
Burde et al., 2015). Four of the five countries with the largest
gender gaps in education – including the Central African
Republic, Yemen and South Sudan – are experiencing
conflict (Nicolai et al., 2015).
Disability status is another key barrier to adolescent
girls’ education: girls with disabilities are especially likely to
be out of school compared to both boys with disabilities and
girls without disabilities (Male and Wodon, 2017). Census
data from 19 LMICS shows that while 85% of 12-year-old
girls without disabilities are enrolled in school, only 72% of
girls with disabilities are enrolled at the same age (Male and
Wodon, 2017). In addition, while approximately 44% of 20
year old women in those LMICS have completed secondary
school, only about one-third of women with disabilities have
graduated from high school (ibid.). These figures are made
far more stark by placing them in a context which highlights
the impact of disability on education: one-third of all out-
of-school children have a disability (Saebones et al., 2015)
and half of all children with disabilities in LMICs are out
of school (International Commission on Financing Global
Education Opportunity, 2016). While numbers are likely to
be far lower in conflict-affected contexts, we do not know
how much lower because evidence gaps render those living
at the margins largely invisible (see Box 2).
Box 2: The imperative for better evidence
While the progress made since the advent of the millennium has taught us much about ‘what works’ to improve girls’ educational
access on the broadest levels, critical evidence gaps remain in terms of how to increase access for the most marginalised
girls, including those living in conflict-affected countries, refugee girls, the poorest girls, and girls with disabilities (UNGEI, 2018).
Evidence from Jordan and Lebanon, for example, demonstrates how to use double-shift schools to quickly scale up the number
of available classrooms. Little is known, however, about how to support adolescents who have fallen behind to bridge back
into formal education (Burde et al., 2015). Similarly, although relatively simple infrastructure modifications, such as ramps, can
improve physical access for those with mobility impairments, we know very little about how to reduce the disability-directed
stigma (Thornicroft et al., 2007) that prevents many teachers and parents providing the support that adolescents with disabilities,
especially girls, need in order to access school, especially at the secondary level.
There is also growing consensus that the previous focus on access – rather than experiences and learning outcomes – has, in
many ways, served to overstate progress and render invisible the ways in which girls’ educational needs remain under-served.
We know little, for example, about how to reduce the gender-based violence that drives many girls out of school, or even how
to support teachers to adopt non-violent discipline strategies in contexts where class sizes leave them badly outnumbered
and stretched too thin (Parkes et al., 2017). Given that today’s teachers are products of their own educational systems, and that
many have weak academic skills of their own, it is also unclear how to better support them to help adolescents, especially girls,
‘leapfrog’ and develop the complex skill sets increasingly demanded by today’s labour markets (World Bank, 2018b).
Her teacher punished her because she didn’t memorise her
lesson. He asked her to stand up all the class time in spite
of her leg pain which she suffers from a lot. Sometimes it
is even to the extent that she is screaming in pain (mother,
3 Global financing of education
for adolescent girls: progress
and gaps
Funding needs for education in low- and lower-middle
income countries will more than double by 2030: from
US $149 billion to US $340 billion. This is due to both the
numbers of children attending school and to the need for
higher spends per capita to improve learning outcomes.
To achieve universal primary and secondary education,
UNESCO (2015c) estimates that in lower-income countries,
primary enrolment must increase 14%, lower-secondary
enrolment must increase 50%, and upper-secondary
enrolment increase fivefold. Spending per student must
also increase dramatically – from only US $70/capita
to nearly US $200/capita at the primary level in lower-
income countries. Even assuming tax increases and budget
reallocation in LMICS, reaching SDG targets will require a
six-fold increase in educational aid (ibid.).
Spending on education is largely flat since 2010. On
the one hand, there is some good news regarding financing.
Total aid to education disbursements in 2016 reached a
new high – US $13.4 billion (up from US $11.9 the year before)
(UNESCO, 2018b). In addition, the share of aid spent on
education increased in 2016, to 8% from 7% in 2015 (Ibid.).
On the other hand, total aid to education has increased only
marginally since 2010 (when it was US $12.6 billion) and the
share of aid spent on education remains markedly lower
than it was before the advent of the economic crisis (11%).
Even more worryingly, the poorest countries have seen
decreases, year after year, in their “share” of aid relative to
lower-middle income countries (ibid.)
Total aid to secondary education is growing, but
contributions from G7 countries vary considerably. In
2016, total aid to secondary education reached US $2.6
billion—up from US $2.1 billion in 2010 (UNESCO, 2018b).
Historically, bilateral donors, led by the United Kingdom
($265 million) and Germany ($259 million), have disbursed
60% of these funds (Figure 1). In 2016, the United States
– the largest bilateral donor of aid to education – ranked
18th in this category, as it is concentrating its aid dollars
on basic education, and Canada’s contribution was also
comparatively low (see Figure 2) (ibid.). Given estimates
that the number of secondary students will need to
increase fivefold by 2030 (in lower-income countries) to
achieve universal secondary education, allocations need
to be stepped up and redirected towards adolescents.
2004 2006
Constant 2016 US$ millions
2009 2011 2014 2016
Rep. of Korea
U. A. Emirates
Asian Development Bank
EU Institution
United Kingdom
World Bank
Figure  1: The top 10 bilateral and multilateral donors to secondary education
Source: GEM Report Team analysis based on OECD Creditor Reporting System (2018)
Aid for post-secondary education is focused on
middle-income rather than low-income countries. In
2016, total aid to post-secondary education was US $4.9
billion – exactly what it was in 2010 (UNESCO, 2018b). While
post-secondary education tends to favour the better off,
as the wealthiest students are more likely than the poorest
students to complete secondary school, more attention
needs to be paid to supporting adolescent transitions and
scaling up access to TVET to help young people obtain
decent employment.
Aid for education in humanitarian contexts is
falling below the necessary requirements to avert
a lost generation. In 2017, humanitarian aid increased
for a fourth year in a row. However, the share of that aid
dedicated to education was a meagre 2.1% – far below the
Global Education First Initiative (GEFI)’s recommended 4%
target (UN, 2012), and far below actual needs – estimated
to be at least $8.5 billion per year (Nicolai et al., 2015). On a
global basis, 25% of all out-of-school adolescents of lower-
secondary age (15 million), and nearly 20% of all out-of-
school adolescents of upper-secondary age (26 million),
live in conflict-affected areas. Failure to adequately provide
for their education is leaving a generation of young people
at risk (UNESCO, 2016b).
Constant 2016 US$ millions
United States
50 100 150 200 250 300 350 400 450
Rep. of Korea
U. A. Emirates
United Kingdom
EU Institutions
World Bank
Top 10 donors in 2016
Figure  2: Top bilateral and multilateral donors to secondary education
Note: G7 countries are in purple bars. Source GEM Report team analysis based on OECD Creditor Reporting System (2018)
4 Global architecture to
buttress adolescent girls’
education and empowerment
The global architecture to buttress adolescent girls’
education and empowerment is rooted in multiple
international treaties and commitments, but must be
strengthened to deliver on the ambitious financing and
quality improvements discussed above.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR),
adopted in 1948, states, in Article 26, that: ‘Everyone has the
right to education’. Since then, the right to education has been
reaffirmed in various international treaties, including the
UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education
(1960), the International Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965), the CEDAW (1979),
the UNCRC (1989), the United Nations Security Council
Resolution 1325 (2000) and the Convention on the Rights
of Persons with Disabilities (2006). The right to education
has also been recognised in ILO Conventions (138 and 182)
and international humanitarian law (Geneva Conventions
of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims
of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 8 June
1977), as well as in regional treaties.
In addition to states’ legal commitment to the right to
education, they have also made a political commitment
to education as an integral part of achieving sustainable
development, building on the legacy of Jomtien (World
Declaration on Education for All, 1990) and Dakar
(Framework for Action 2000), through the Agenda for
Sustainable Development (‘2030 Agenda’). Ambitions
for education are captured in SDG 4, which aims to
‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and
promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ by 2030.
The 2030 Agenda recognises that education is essential
for the success of all 17 goals. In terms of adolescent
girls’ education in conflict-affected contexts, the study
submitted by the Secretary-General pursuant to Security
Council Resolution 1325 (2000) focuses on the right to
education and psychosocial wellbeing (UN, 2002).
In terms of financing, important multilateral efforts
include the Global Partnership for Education, which seeks
to build a partnership around a single point of entry in
support of SDG 4 in the 89 low- and lower-middle income
countries that are farthest away from reaching that goal,
and the Education Cannot Wait catalytic fund designed
to transform the delivery of education for countries in
emergencies and protracted crises.
To ensure that states deliver on their legal commitments
to the right to education, it is critical that G7 leaders support
an architecture that is fit for purpose, by:
Urging LMIC governments to substantially increase
public investment in education by devoting a significantly
greater share of the proceeds of growth to education.
Increasing ODA to 0.7% of gross national income and
dedicating a larger share of bilateral donors’ total
spending to education (10%).
Placing responsive and participatory monitoring and
accountability architecture to track progress against
commitments, including the 2018 G7 commitments.
Implementing integrated strategies for gender equality in
education and complementary empowerment initiatives
that recognise the need for changes in attitudes, values
and practices, through indices such as the OECD-DAC
Gender Equality Policy Marker and the Inter-Agency
Standing Committee (IASC) Gender Marker.
Appointing gender champions at senior levels to
increase the visibility of the international community’s
commitments to adolescent girls’ education and
5 Conclusions and
recommendations for action
Catalysing global action on adolescent girls’ education and
empowerment is essential to achieving the Sustainable
Development Goals and establishing foundations for
broader economic growth and prosperity. To achieve
this, the G7 Whistler Declaration on Adolescent Girls
can play a key role by recognising the second decade of
life as an age of opportunity and strategically investing
– through secondary school and beyond – in the world’s
unprecedented 1.2 billion adolescents.
Despite progress – and known spill-over impacts
of girls’ education on health, nutrition and economic
development – nearly 100 million girls remain out of
school globally. Existing evidence highlights that girls
disadvantage is due to gender norms which leave them
with less parental support for schooling, time-consuming
domestic chores and care roles, and high odds of child
marriage, adolescent motherhood, and violence. The
most disadvantaged girls, including those with disabilities,
ethnic and linguistic minorities, and those living in remote
or conflict-affected areas, are most likely to be denied their
rights to an education.
Recent improvements in adolescent girls’ access
to school have not been accompanied by investments
in quality instruction and safety. Schools in LMICs too
rarely provide age-appropriate, gender-responsive learning
environments that support girls to acquire the academic,
social-emotional and practical skills they need to maximise
their potential and transition successfully into adulthood.
The cost of providing universal primary and
secondary education in low- and lower-middle income
countries is expected to grow from US $149 billion in
2012 to US $340 billion in 2030. Taking into account
country spend, there is an estimated annual funding gap
of US $39 billion that must be met by aid, and supported by
a coordinated global finance and governance architecture.
Key actions for the G7:
Given the significant challenges in realising adolescent
girls’ education and empowerment it is critical that the G7
prioritise the following actions:
1. Move beyond global and national aggregates to
focus on “leaving no girl behind”.
Investments in education need to ensure that the
poorest, minorities, those with disabilities, adolescent
wives and mothers, and those living in remote areas
have access to quality education that supports their
aspirations and educational success. This should
include complementary investments in community
awareness raising efforts and engaging with local
leaders to transform discriminatory gender norms,
gender-responsive social protection and adolescent-
responsive health and nutritional services.
Given the scale and protracted nature of modern
conflicts and girls’ particular vulnerabilities in these
settings, lessons regarding rapid scale up of education
services from recent conflicts need to be harnessed.
Leveraging existing community organisations to set
up non-formal education centres supported by
minimum quality standards can be an early quick win,
while investments in double-shift schools, in systems
to bridge non-formal and formal education and in
cash transfers can support adolescents to re-enter
education. Funding for education in humanitarian
contexts needs to be tripled from 2% to 6% to
support these actions.
2. Improve educational quality by focusing on teacher
training, tackling widespread age- and gender-
based violence in schools, and delivering a broad
menu of skills relevant to girls’ real-world needs.
Teachers need training and resources that support
their ability to cater to the diverse learning needs of
all students, and skills to employ positive discipline
approaches. This should be supported by legislating
and enforcing zero-tolerance for teacher–student
violence; strengthening reporting, monitoring and
accountability systems; and investing in anti-bullying
and anti-sexual harassment awareness-raising
within school curricula.
School curricula also need to be reformed so
as to support adolescent girls to acquire not just
‘hard’ academic skills, but also “soft” skills such
as communication and leadership, technical and
digital skills, as well as practical and context-tailored
information on puberty and adolescent transitions.
3. Increase aid to education six-fold, prioritising
low-income countries and taking a coordinated,
inter-sectoral approach focused on developing
the multiple capabilities adolescent girls require
to become educated, healthy, empowered,
economically contributing adults. This would
Securing a renewed commitment by all OECD
donors to 0.7% of international aid with at least 10%
of that figure allocated to education so as to tackle
complex barriers to education.
Strengthening international frameworks to measure
progress in adolescent girls’ education including
renewed commitment to the OECD DAC Gender
Equality Marker and appointing gender champions at
senior levels within countries and donor organisations.
Addressing evidence gaps on what works for
adolescent girls by investing at least 5% of
programme budget targets for robust research and
evaluations, which are embedded in programme
design and implementation from the outset to
ensure investments in adolescent girls’ education
and empowerment are informed by rigorous
research and evaluation insights.
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About GAGE
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... Globally, empowerment has been studied in the context of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention with a focus on equipping adolescent girls and young women with knowledge and skills to remain HIV-free 6 . Other studies view education as a form of empowerment for girls 7 . Furthermore, evidence shows that a majority of interventions for adolescent empowerment provide information on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) issues including HIV and AIDS, education, and adolescent self-efficacy 7 . ...
... Other studies view education as a form of empowerment for girls 7 . Furthermore, evidence shows that a majority of interventions for adolescent empowerment provide information on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) issues including HIV and AIDS, education, and adolescent self-efficacy 7 . ...
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Background : Empowerment is when a person gains mastery of their life and environment. This paper describes three central elements of empowerment (agency, resources, and institutional structures) expressed by adolescents, discussing implications for strengthening adolescent sexual reproductive health, HIV, and violence prevention programming. Methods : A cross-sectional survey was conducted (April 2017 – May 2018) as part of the GAP Year trial among grade eight learners (12 – 18 years) from 26 lowest quintile public high schools in Khayelitsha, Soweto and Thembisa townships, South Africa. Data were on empowerment experiences using a knowledge, attitudes, and practices survey. Descriptive and chi-square test statistics were employed, assessing the association between sociodemographic and domains of empowerment. Results : A total of 2383 adolescents in 26 schools completed the baseline survey: 63.1% female, mean age 13.7 years, 96.9% Black African. Agency: Males (4.04 vs 3.94, p=0.008) and those 15 – 18 years (4.10 vs 3.95, p=0.027) expressed stronger decision-making capacity. Females (3.18 vs 2.92, p<0.001) indicated a greater sense of collective action. Females (0.77 vs 0.72, p=0.008), those aged 12 -14 years (0.76 vs 0.71, p=0.027) and those with at least one parent/guardian employed (p=0.014) had stronger leadership confidence. Resources: Those 12-14 years expressed higher self-esteem (2.18 vs 2.08, p=0.017). Males (2.24 vs 1.87, p<0.001) and those who had at least one parent/guardian employed (p=0.047) had a higher perception of freedom from gender-based violence. Males showed greater mobility (2.89 vs 2.66, p=<0.001). Institutional structures: Coloured participants showed more positive norms than their Black counterparts (5.38 vs 2.12, p=0.005). Conclusions : Males expressed greater empowerment around decision-making, gender-based violence and mobility; females expressed greater collective action and leadership. Working across the ecological model, interventions addressing sex differences, targeting adolescents of all ages, and parental unemployment may strengthen expressions of empowerment, especially adolescents’ safety, mobility, aspirations, and future hopes.
... additional burdens, in part due to the deeply embedded gender norms which determine her actions, her opportunities, and how she interacts with society (Harper et al., 2018). Where there are no barriers to accessing health services and education, and where opportunities for voice exist, girls are able to live empowered and fulfilling lives (Banati & Lansford, 2018;Jones et al., 2018), with positive gains for herself, her community and society as a whole. Evidence shows high rates of return in investments in girls' education (UNESCO, 2014) and preventing child marriage (Wodon et al., 2017), for society and centrally for the girl herself. ...
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As national governments roll out COVID response plans, an opportunity arises to re-cast adolescent girls’ programs to centrally anchor them on girls’ voices, leadership, ambitions, and assets in development policies and programs. Drawing together the evidence on what we know works for adolescent girls, as well as the growing literature on positive strengths-based programming which are gradually and increasingly being applied, this commentary calls for a girl-intentional approach to policy and programming. A girl-intentional approach is described through 3 case studies, which illustrate the additionality of new or improved adolescent knowledge, skills, and competencies; improved opportunities for adolescent engagement, voice, and agency; improved community safety and support; stronger, healthier relationships; and stronger and healthier norms, attitudes, values, and goals. The case studies describe program hooks that facilitate operationalization, point to measurable outcomes, and identify opportunities for scale, including the re-opening of schools. Overall, inter-sectoral solutions that address the myriad of issues affecting an adolescent girl’s life and tackle pervasive gender inequities require greater emphasis by development actors and national governments.
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Investment in the capabilities of the world's 1·2 billion adolescents is vital to the UN's Sustainable Development Agenda. We examined investments in countries of low income, lower-middle income, and upper-middle income covering the majority of these adolescents globally to derive estimates of investment returns given existing knowledge. The costs and effects of the interventions were estimated by adapting existing models and by extending methods to create new modelling tools. Benefits were valued in terms of increased gross domestic product and averted social costs. The initial analysis showed high returns for the modelled interventions, with substantial variation between countries and with returns generally higher in low-income countries than in countries of lower-middle and upper-middle income. For interventions targeting physical, mental, and sexual health (including a human papilloma virus programme), an investment of US$4·6 per capita each year from 2015 to 2030 had an unweighted mean benefit to cost ratio (BCR) of more than 10·0, whereas, for interventions targeting road traffic injuries, a BCR of 5·9 (95% CI 5·8–6·0) was achieved on investment of $0·6 per capita each year. Interventions to reduce child marriage ($3·8 per capita each year) had a mean BCR of 5·7 (95% CI 5·3–6·1), with the effect high in low-income countries. Investment to increase the extent and quality of secondary schooling is vital but will be more expensive than other interventions—investment of $22·6 per capita each year from 2015 to 2030 generated a mean BCR of 11·8 (95% CI 11·6–12·0). Investments in health and education will not only transform the lives of adolescents in resource-poor settings, but will also generate high economic and social returns. These returns were robust to substantial variation in assumptions. Although the knowledge base on the impacts of interventions is limited in many areas, and a major research effort is needed to build a more complete investment framework, these analyses suggest that comprehensive investments in adolescent health and wellbeing should be given high priority in national and international policy.
Technical Report
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171 articles (of 2525 publications identified) were reviewed to understand what approaches appear to be making a difference in addressing SRGBV. Some key findings are: Major evidence gaps exist in how to provide safe, inclusive and violence-free learning environments for girls and boys. Research has been skewed towards evaluations of short-term interventions at a moment of practice, with little long-term follow-up. While there is a good evidence base on violence prevention interventions with groups of children, work that is not specifically focused on sexual violence tends to be gender-blind. •Addressing the links between violence, identities, social and cultural norms and intersecting structural inequalities is crucial to effective interventions related to SRGBV. •Policies and practices need to be shaped based on critical reflection of how they influence girls’ and boys’ day-to-day experiences of violence •The most promising approaches involve those working with groups of young people on gender, sex and violence with reflection and consciousness-raising on gender identities, social norms and inequalities that shape the risk and experience of sexual violence. Single sex groups (e.g., girls’ and boys’ clubs), sometimes combined with mixed group sessions, can provide ‘safe spaces’ for building awareness about gender equality, violence prevention and redress. •Holistic community-based programmes that develop critical reflection and interpersonal skills, alongside socio-economic support/training can help deter peer violence, gang involvement, cyber bullying, violent crime and other negative behaviours. Psychological interventions in war zones need to be carefully tailored to local conditions, and more evidence is needed using a gender lens. •Supporting teachers and schools is paramount. Evidence suggests that women and men teachers’ confidence in addressing SRGBV can be strengthened by supporting reflection on their own values, beliefs and personal histories; curriculum materials and training in strategies to address discrimination and violence; and training in interactive, inclusive pedagogies. •Robust evidence is needed for interventions that focus on changing laws, developing policy or working with macro institutions; as well as interventions at district level by officials and organizations tasked with disseminating, implementing and monitoring policies. •Critical reflection on values, norms, professional cultures and institutions has the potential to strengthen policy enactment at the level of the ‘missing middle’.
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Background: Early adolescence (ages 10-14) is a period of increased expectations for boys and girls to adhere to socially constructed and often stereotypical norms that perpetuate gender inequalities. The endorsement of such gender norms is closely linked to poor adolescent sexual and reproductive and other health-related outcomes yet little is known about the factors that influence young adolescents' personal gender attitudes. Objectives: To explore factors that shape gender attitudes in early adolescence across different cultural settings globally. Methods: A mixed-methods systematic review was conducted of the peer-reviewed literature in 12 databases from 1984-2014. Four reviewers screened the titles and abstracts of articles and reviewed full text articles in duplicate. Data extraction and quality assessments were conducted using standardized templates by study design. Thematic analysis was used to synthesize quantitative and qualitative data organized by the social-ecological framework (individual, interpersonal and community/societal-level factors influencing gender attitudes). Results: Eighty-two studies (46 quantitative, 31 qualitative, 5 mixed-methods) spanning 29 countries were included. Ninety percent of studies were from North America or Western Europe. The review findings indicate that young adolescents, across cultural settings, commonly express stereotypical or inequitable gender attitudes, and such attitudes appear to vary by individual sociodemographic characteristics (sex, race/ethnicity and immigration, social class, and age). Findings highlight that interpersonal influences (family and peers) are central influences on young adolescents' construction of gender attitudes, and these gender socialization processes differ for boys and girls. The role of community factors (e.g. media) is less clear though there is some evidence that schools may reinforce stereotypical gender attitudes among young adolescents. Conclusions: The findings from this review suggest that young adolescents in different cultural settings commonly endorse norms that perpetuate gender inequalities, and that parents and peers are especially central in shaping such attitudes. Programs to promote equitable gender attitudes thus need to move beyond a focus on individuals to target their interpersonal relationships and wider social environments. Such programs need to start early and be tailored to the unique needs of sub-populations of boys and girls. Longitudinal studies, particularly from low-and middle-income countries, are needed to better understand how gender attitudes unfold in adolescence and to identify the key points for intervention.
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Voluntary family planning brings transformational benefits to women, families, communities, and countries. Investing in family planning is a development “best buy” that can accelerate achievement across the 5 Sustainable Development Goal themes of People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnership.
Adolescence is a pivotal time in a girl’s life. The development of educational, physical, psychosocial, familial, political and economic capabilities enable girls to reach their full potential and contribute to the wellbeing of their families and society. However, progress is still significantly constrained by discriminatory gender norms and the related attitudes and practices which restrict girls’ horizons, restrain their ambition and, if unfettered, allow exploitation and abuse. Empowering Adolescent Girls in Developing Countries explores the detrimental impact of discriminatory gender norms on adolescent girls’ lives across very different contexts. Grounded in four years of in-depth research in Ethiopia, Nepal, Uganda and Viet Nam, the book adopts a holistic approach, recognising the inter-related nature of capabilities and the importance of local context. By exploring the theory of gendered norm change, contextualising and examining socialisation processes, the book identifies the patriarchal vested interests in power, authority and moral privilege, which combine in attempts to restrict and control girls’ lives. Throughout the book, Empowering Adolescent Girls in Developing Countries demonstrates how efforts to develop more egalitarian gender norms can enable disadvantaged adolescent girls to change the course of their lives and contribute to societal change. Accessible and informative, the book is perfect for policy makers, think tanks, NGOs, activists, academics and students of gender and development studies. © 2018 selection and editorial matter, Caroline Harper, Nicola Jones, Anita Ghimire, Rachel Marcus and Grace Kyomuhendo Bantebya.
Most research on sensitive periods has focussed on early sensory, motor, and language development, but it has recently been suggested that adolescence might represent a second 'window of opportunity' in brain development. Here, we explore three candidate areas of development that are proposed to undergo sensitive periods in adolescence: memory, the effects of social stress, and drug use. We describe rodent studies, neuroimaging, and large-scale behavioural studies in humans that have yielded data that are consistent with heightened neuroplasticity in adolescence. Critically however, concrete evidence for sensitive periods in adolescence is mostly lacking. To provide conclusive evidence, experimental studies are needed that directly manipulate environmental input and compare effects in child, adolescent, and adult groups. Recently the idea that adolescence may be a sensitive period of development has gained traction in the literature.Adolescence is characterised by changes in brain structure and function, particularly in regions of the cortex that are involved in higher-level cognitive processes such as memory, for which capacity may be heightened in adolescence.Heightened plasticity may not only result in increased opportunities for development but also in increased vulnerabilities. Data from rodents show effects of social isolation and reduced fear extinction that are consistent with adolescence as a sensitive period for the development of mental illness.Adolescent sensitive periods are likely to be characterised by large individual differences. Rodent data indicate that individuals who are exposed to drugs such as cannabis during adolescence may experience detrimental effects on cognitive functioning.