Girls Count: A Global Investment & Action Agenda

Cynthia B. Lloyd
Margaret Greene
Caren Grown
January 14, 2008

New edition released December 2009

One person in eight is a girl or young woman age 10–24. Young people are the fastest growing segment of the population in developing countries, and their welfare is a fundamental input for key economic and social outcomes -- including the size and competitiveness of tomorrow's labor force, future economic growth, improved governance, and healthy civil societies.

But girls in developing countries are in trouble. They face systematic disadvantages over a wide range of welfare indicators, including health, education, nutrition, labor force participation, and the burden of household tasks. Because of deprivation and discriminatory cultural norms, many poor girls are forced to marry at very young ages and are extraordinarily vulnerable to HIV, sexual violence, and physical exploitation. Lacking a full range of economic opportunities and devalued because of gender bias, many girls are seen as unworthy of investment or protection by their families.

This report, co-authored by CGD vice president for programs and operations Ruth Levine; Cynthia Lloyd, senior associate with the Poverty, Gender, and Youth program and chair of the Bixby Fellowship program at the Population Coun­cil; Margaret Greene, director of the Population and Social Transitions Team at the International Center for Research on Women; and Caren Grown, economist-in-residence in the Department of Economics at American University, describes why and how to initiate effective investments that will give adolescent girls in developing countries a full and equal chance for rewarding lives and livelihoods.

This report's broad agenda includes three key actions:

  • Count girls. Disaggregate data of all types—from health and education statistics to the counts of program beneficiaries—by age and sex. Doing so will make girls more visible to policymakers and reveal where girls are excluded.
  • Invest in girls. Make strategic and significant investments in programs focused on adolescent girls, commensurate with their importance as contributors to the achievement of economic and social goals.
  • Give girls a fair share. In employment, social programs, protection of human rights, and all other domains ensure that adolescent girls benefit equitably. In many cases this will take explicit and deliberate efforts to overcome household and social barriers.

The authors have provided specific recommendations for civil society, governments, private-sector leaders, and donor agencies to create mechanisms for the meaningful participation of young women and adolescent girls in their programs and policy, helping to foster youth leadership and gender-sensitive ideology. At the global level, while these priorities by no means constitute an exhaustive list, they should inform donor and technical agencies and private charities of where gains can be made.

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