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How Investing in Adolescent Girls Lead to Development?

World Bank demonstrated that increasing the secondary education of girls by 1% results in annual income increase of 0.3% per capita for any nation.

A recent study through data simulation of selected 100 countries by the World Bank demonstrated that increasing the secondary education of girls by 1% results in annual income increase of 0.3% per capita for any nation. Providing a platform to the girls and young woman to enhance their socio-economic outcomes is of central importance, not only to the beneficiaries themselves but also to the communities they live in and the later generations to come.

India is home to the world’s highest number of adolescents. World Health Organization (WHO) defines an adolescent as any person between the age of 10 and 19 years of age. India’s Adolescent population constitutes around one-fourth of the total population, while the young people aged 10-24 years cover about one-third. Adolescent girls cover about 21% of the total Indian population.

Being denied the fruits of development, adolescent girls are still deprived of basic rights such as stepping out of the house, getting an education, earning livelihood etc. which only results in not meeting their full potential. Adolescence is a critical evolving period for girls as they are at a greater risk of many events which can have irreversible negative consequences in their life if not intervened at the right time such as dropping out of school, child marriage, early pregnancy, domestic violence, poor maternal and neonatal health, these issues not only impact girls alone but also the next upcoming generation.

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Having worked in Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojana (RGMVP), a Ngo that works for woman empowerment and poverty reduction in the rural parts of Uttar Pradesh, for almost 2 years, I came across many such stories that talked about the importance of investing in Young Woman from the very start.

During my field visits to Villages in rural Uttar Pradesh, conducting surveys, focus groups, and interviews with young girls and their mothers I understood in detail the discrimination that girls are subjugated from the very start not only in the society but also in the very house that they live in.

Female impoverishment and discrimination result from a vicious cycle of not seeing girls as equal to boys because they are not expected to make an economic contribution to their families like the male. The families are more willing to provide a dowry for their daughter’s marriage but would think twice before sending them to school. Girls are seen as a liability that needs to get chucked off by marrying them, an expectation that represents a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Young women in this strictly patriarchal society live a life of seclusion with no access to information on their livelihood generation, health, reproduction, fundamental rights, or opportunities. At a very young age, they carry the burdens of household work and take care of young and elderly in the family. They are seldom exposed to any means that empowers them to fight back injustices and disrupt hierarchies. They are deprived of leadership and independence and live a life of virtual slavery for the most part.

Ironically India’s, or for that matter any country’s economic growth and development largely depends on this particular cohort as they have within them great potential to contribute. In order to realize this potential to the fullest, adolescent girls must be healthy, educated and equipped with information skills and confidence that would enable them to contribute to their communities and the country’s socio-economic growth. Investing in adolescent girls by educating them, improving their socio-economic aspects and building their capacity offers the best hope of cutting into the vicious cycle of gender discrimination and female deprivation by breaking all forms of social barriers and hierarchies. When one takes into account all its benefits, educating girls yields a higher rate of return than any other investment available in the developing world as said by one of the most prominent economist.

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It is crucial to understand that improving the socio-economic outcome of adolescent girls is important not only for them but also for the community that they are a part of, as well as for the building process of the entire nation. Educating adolescent girls has an enormous social impact. Most importantly, educating women raises their productivity. It reduces maternal and child mortality rate draws more attention to family planning, and makes them aware of the existing societal issues. It provides women with a chance to disrupt hierarchy by making them aware of their rights and allowing them access to various schemes and pathways through a tightly-knit framework which supports and enables them in the endeavour.

An important aspect of gender equality lies in enabling women to be able to voice their concerns and become active citizens who can express and address issues. Investing in adolescent girls right from the start is very necessary as it is during the period of early adolescence, when physical changes and gender roles become more defined, as they transition into adulthood. The teaching of the adolescence remains constant as it shapes the future personality of any person as it helps in building a stronger foundation. With the right intervention, opportunities and support we build strong young woman leaders like Greta, Malala and Licypriya. That’s what investing in adolescent girls can do. It changes the world. One step at a time.

The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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