The Power Of One Girl

As the eldest of three girls growing up with my family in the West of Scotland, I rarely realised how incredibly lucky I was. I had a solid roof over my head. I attended good local primary schools which led to secondary education. Through this I was given the opportunity to go to university, and pursue whatever career I wanted to. I grew up happy, healthy, and with many opportunities available to me.

For the 600 million adolescent girls in developing countries, this is not the case. There is a staggering 130 million young people in the world who are not in school, 70% of whom are girls. One girl in seven in developing countries marries before the age of 15 and three quarters of 15- to 24-year-olds living with HIV in Africa are female. With extreme poverty being a reality for 1.4 billion people, governments, charities, aid organisations, and think-tanks have struggled with finding a solution. What is the key? How do you break the cycle of poverty?  Recent studies have uncovered the untapped potential of a section of society that could hold the key to breaking that cycle of poverty. The answer? A twelve year old girl.

The girl effect is defined as the unique potential of 600 million adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves and the world. An adolescent girl has been shown to reinvest her income and knowledge back into her family and community. Whether she lives her life as a mother, an entrepreneur or employee, a girl is uniquely capable of raising her standard of living, and breaking the cycle of poverty.

When a girl is educated through secondary school, she will bring 25% more income into her family. When she is healthy, her family and community’s health improves, maternal mortality and child malnutrition drops, and HIV prevalence declines. The numbers are striking. Kenya would gain $27 billion in potential income per generation if its female secondary school dropouts continued their education. Brazil foregoes an average of $17.3 billion per year as a result of girls’ joblessness. India sacrifices a potential of $100 billion over a lifetime due to adolescent pregnancy while early school dropouts costs the Indian economy $10 billion in potential income over a lifetime.

In spite of this potential, evidence shows that this adolescent girl is more likely to be uneducated, marry before the age of 16, and be exposed to HIV/AIDS. Less than 2% of international development funds are directed towards adolescent girls. Fortunately, this is changing. The world is starting to see the impact of excluding girls, and how much can change when she is given a chance.

So what does the girl effect look like in real life? Anita Kumari is a 20 year old girl from Bihar in India. When she was five years old she pestered her parents to let her join her local school as one of the only girls in the class. When she asked her parents for fees for secondary school they could not afford them. Anita started her first business as a tutor for other children, using the money to pay for her own education. Anita’s father became ill, so Anita, at 15 years old, put herself into a new school for a higher-paying job, which was beekeeping. In a class filled with men in their 40s, Anita learned how to be the village’s first female beekeeper. In the midst of this she delayed the marriage that had been arranged by her parents through hunger striking. Today, at 20, she is paying her college tuition. She has hired her brother.  She has formed a women’s farmers club and she has trained 20 girls in beekeeping.

Her story is one of guts, determination and overcoming hardship – hardship that would not have been hers had she not been a girl. In India, more than half of girls under the age of 16 will drop out of school.  86% of India’s 84.6 million girls aged 15–24 are jobless.  New initiatives and organisations are recognising these vital issues and are funding and inspiring young women to change their world. Going To School ( run The Be! an Entrepreneur Fund in India, which inspires girls to create businesses that solve the social, economic and environmental problems they face in their daily lives. This is the girl effect in action.

Fifteen year old Juthika is from a small village in Bangladesh called Ishwarpur. Within poor communities like Ishwarpur, there is a belief that daughters are not worth educating. Daughters are married off as soon as possible so they are no longer a burden on their family. More than half of Bangladeshi girls are married by age 18. Juthika is one of many girls who are changing this belief. Juthika joins thirty other girls several times a week in a programme run by BRAC ( Through this programme the girls gain friendship, knowledge of their rights, health education, the skills to look after poultry and small crops, and an understanding of how to profit from it. Most significantly, they receive credit to start their businesses. Juthika has ducks and a vegetable garden. She tutors schoolboys, and embroiders handkerchiefs. She makes $37 dollars a month, and is putting herself through school, along with her brother. She supports her father and her mother. Juthika is joined by the other girls in her village, all running small businesses to keep themselves and their siblings in school, while adding to their families’ income. The girl effect is impacting the village of Ishwarpur.

The Girl Effect ( has identified 12 key factors that will lead to a better future for an adolescent girl. Amongst these factors are some of the simple things that are taken for granted in the Western world. One of those factors is to give young girls some form of ID showing proof of age. This means girls can access and manage bank accounts, protect themselves against early marriage, and access many other critical services. Another factor is gaining the trust of their community and addressing their attitudes about girls through community-led education. The simple factor of giving the girls a safe place in which to meet with others and learn essential life skills is one of the most basic elements of bringing about change. Further factors include health education, strong female role models and mentors, connecting with other girls in the same position, being given the confidence to stand up for herself, ensuring she is given the chance to stay in school, and being given the chance to change her economic prospects through microfinancing.

At the age of 12, a girl is at a crossroads. What happens to her in the following three years will either continue the cycle of poverty, or change the course of her life, and the life of her children and grandchildren. If these simple factors, that are a given for many young girls who have grown up in economically stable backgrounds, become a reality for that girl, it will mean a brighter future for herself, her family, and her community.

Many charities are recognising the girl effect and there are various campaigns to get involved in. Plan International ‘s ‘Because I Am A Girl’ ( campaign is tackling many of the issues of gender inequality through the girl effect. The Send My Sister To School ( ) campaign is harnessing the girl effect through highlighting the importance of girls’ education.  The Girl Effect is not just one campaign – it is hundreds of small campaigns and initiatives, investing in girls at a crucial point in their lives, and turning their lives around.  For more information on these campaigns, you can go to The Girl Effect Global Giving page:

The girl effect is not just about girls. It’s about girls, boys, mothers, fathers, communities, villages, and even countries. There are 600 million adolescent girls living in poverty in the developing world. The girl effect begins with just one of these girls. With safe places to meet, education, health care, and the chance to gain job skills, they can thrive. If they thrive, everyone around them thrives too.

This post runs as part of The Girl Effect blogging campaign. Read more here:

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