The Center for Global Development
’s latest report, Start With A Girl: A New Agenda For Global Health
, sheds light on the risks of ignoring the health of adolescent girls. Like other reports in the Girls Count series
, it links broad social outcomes with adolescent health. “Adolescence is a critical juncture for girls. What happens to a girl’s health during adolescence determines her future–and that of her family, community, and country,” state coauthors Miriam Temin and Ruth Levine.
Between childhood and pregnancy, adolescent girls are largely ignored by the public health sector. At the same time, programs and policies aimed at youth do not necessarily meet the specific needs of girls. Understanding the social forces that shape girls’ lives is imperative to improving their health.
Like recent books by Michelle Goldberg
and Nicholas Kristof,
the report argues for increased investment in girls’ education to break down the social and economic barriers that prevent adolescent girls from reaching their full potential. Improving adolescent girls’ health will require addressing gender inequality, discrimination, poverty
, and gender-based violence
“For many girls in developing countries, well-being is compromised by poor education, violence, and abuse,” say Temin and Levin. “Girls must overcome a panoply of barriers, from restrictions of their movement to taboos about discussion of sexuality to lack of autonomy.” The report points to innovative government and NGO programs that have successfully changed negative social norms, such as female genital cutting and child marriage. However, the authors urge researchers to examine the cost-effectiveness and scalability of these programs.
In the last five years, the international community has become increasingly aware of the importance of youth to social and economic development. Some new programs are focused on investing in adolescent girls, such as the World Bank’s Adolescent Girls Initiative and the White House Council on Women and Girls, but significant additional investment and support is needed.
“Big changes for girls’ health require big actions by national governments supported by bilateral and multilateral donor partners, international NGOs…civil society and committed leaders in the private sector,” maintain Temin and Levin. They offer eight recommendations:
1. Implement a comprehensive health agenda for adolescent girls in at least three countries by working with countries that demonstrate national leadership on adolescent girls.
2. Eliminate marriage for girls younger than 18.
3. Place adolescent girls at the center of international and national action and investment on maternal health.
4. Focus HIV prevention on adolescent girls.
5. Make health-systems strengthening and monitoring work for girls.
6. Make secondary school completion a priority for adolescent girls.
7. Create an innovation fund for girls’ health.
8. Increase donor support for adolescent girls’ health.
“We estimate that a complete set of interventions, including health services and community and school-based efforts, would cost about $1 per day,” say the authors of Start With a Girl. There is no doubt in my mind that this small investment would indeed have a high return for the entire global community.