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#InDevelopment series launch! Empowering adolescent girls - 6 essential steps

Many of you will have celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8. For us at Palladium, it marked an important opportunity to recommit ourselves to achieving a world in which every woman and girl enjoys a full range of rights and freedoms; as well as a chance to reflect on how we contribute to gender equality on our programs. But it’s not just a matter of social justice and equality, a recent McKinsey Global Institute study found that global GDP could increase by $12 trillion by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. Brenda Lee Pearson, our Technical Director of Gender Equity and Social Inclusion, takes a look at the US government’s new priorities for gender programs and the responsibility of the development community in championing women’s rights.

InDevelopment March contributor: Brenda Pearson, Palladium's Technical Director of Gender Equity and Social Inclusion.

Increasingly, world leaders are acknowledging that women and girls are the vital links to peace and security for entire communities and countries. Gender bias and discrimination are not simply affronts to the individual dignity of women or a woman, but they are threats, ultimately, to the peace and the security of an entire community or country.

As a global community we have made remarkable progress in supporting women and girls’ access to primary education, access to health care for new mothers, and financial backing for female entrepreneurs and workers. It’s important we recognize these achievements and take heart from what we can accomplish together!

There are, however, still gross inequalities in access to paid employment in some regions, and significant gaps between men and women in the labor market. Sexual violence and exploitation, the unequal division of unpaid care and domestic work, and discrimination in public decision making, all remain huge barriers. To add perspective, every single day adolescent girls spend 200 million hours collecting water for their families.

“Around the globe, violence against women is an epidemic. For every woman who has been beaten in her own home, for the millions of women who have been raped as a weapon of war, for every girl who has been attacked on her way to school, for all of the children–girls and boys–who have witnessed this brutality, we must do better.”- Vice President Joe Biden.

Gender equality remains a priority issue for the global community

Secretary of State John Kerry and US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russell rolled out a whole-of-government approach to provide the next generation of women the tools they need to pursue their aspirations. In releasing its new Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls on March 15, Secretary Kerry was very clear that a future in which all women and girls around the world are allowed to rise and achieve their full potential will be a brighter, more peaceful, and more prosperous future for us all. This strategy builds upon the 2013 US Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally.

Secretary John Kerry and US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russell.

USAID, DFID and DFAT have taken great steps to develop real leadership on gender equality. They’ve also expanded resources for gender programs and greatly increased staff capacity. The requirement for gender integration in program design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation has also been a giant step forward.

The question is, how well prepared is the international development community to respond to this challenge? Do we have the technical skills and experience to align our expertise with the unique needs of adolescent girls?

Great steps have been taken to develop real leadership on gender.

If we are to be up to the challenge, we need clarity around what’s needed. Here are our 6 essential steps to gender equality.

1. Deliver results and build evidence for the positive impact of universal access to sexual and reproductive health. Help enact laws and lead policy change to scale up and foster sustainable and equitable health services that address gender-based violence, stigma and discrimination and health inequities related to poverty.
2. Expand donor efforts to integrate gender-based violence prevention and response into all programming. Gender-based violence is a human rights violation that robs women and girls of dignity, constitutes a high cost to communities and nations, and impacts development outcomes across sectors and regions. Knowledge- and capacity-building need to happen at the country level and translate into real results.
3. Shift our focus so that girls achieve secondary education. More girls are now in school compared to 15 years ago, and most regions have reached gender parity in primary education. Secondary education, however, is arguably the most powerful tool for helping girls escape cycles of poverty and abuse. The reality is it remains beyond the reach of tens of millions of girls around the world. 103 million youth worldwide lack basic literacy skills, and more than 60 per cent of them are girls.
4. Maintain the momentum - hold all sectors, donor missions and implementers accountable for programs being gender-responsive. Palladium, for example, has contributed to USAID’’s monitoring and evaluation tools, including the Toolkit for Monitoring and Evaluating GBV Interventions Along the Relief to Development Continuum.
5. Emphasize the importance of local solutions. Local women’s groups and organizations know their needs and solutions best so we should focus on building our capacity to engage and support local partners; particularly women-led organizations and those that represent and empower marginalized groups.
6. Demonstrate your organization’s commitment to gender equality for your own staff because these staff members are more likely to bring that same commitment to their own work and our beneficiaries will feel the effects.

More can be done to build the capacity of local women-led organizations.

Focusing on the empowerment of adolescent girls is the right investment. Women are one-half of the potential human capital in any economy. More than half a billion women have joined the world’s workforce over the past 30 years. Women make up 40 percent of the agriculture labor force and more than half the world’s university students. Keeping our adolescent girls healthy, safe and educated is a powerful force for change that should not be ignored.

If you are interested in exploring solutions to gender inequality and continuing the conversation, contact me at

Want to know more about Palladium’s gender programs?
Palladium is a driver of gender equality, and has successfully implemented projects totaling more than $1 billion in 90 countries to deliver tangible improvements in women’s and girls’ lives. We support access to quality health and family planning services under the PEPFAR and USAID-funded Healthy Policy Programs (HPP, HP+); under one of DFID’s largest ever gender projects, Voices for Change (V4C) in Nigeria, Palladium helps adolescent girls and women get improved access to health, education, economic, political opportunity, and justice. Palladium manages about $50 million of DFAT funding in Indonesia, to improve quality education for primary and secondary students under Australia’s Education Partnership – Performance Oversight & Monitoring (AEP-POM) and Providing Innovation for Indonesia’s School Children (INOVASI).

InDevelopment is Palladium’s blog series exploring emerging, cutting-edge and profound themes in global development. You’ll hear from our global experts and guests every two weeks. For more from Palladium’s International Development work follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and #InDevelopment.