Our new report reveals what it will take to give underprivileged girls a brighter future…

A report we wrote with Dalberg Advisors finds there are eight essential elements of girls’ economic empowerment (see chart below), each representing a hurdle.


It’s the first time that research like this has identified the fundamental elements girls need to fulfill their economic potential, and how these are all linked.

A girl won’t be able to go to school and get a job, without being healthy and free from violence. She needs freedom of movement and a break from household duties if she is to have time to learn and earn. And financial inclusion is essential, so she can control her spending and save for the future – whether it’s school fees, a hospital visit or a bus ticket to a job interview.

The eight elements of girls’ economic empowerment

There are eight elements of girls’ economic empowerment. These include a combination of core economic opportunities:

  1. access to quality education and skills and
  2. access to employers and entrepreneurship; as well as social, political and cultural enablers that make it possible to realize these opportunities
  3. access to healthcare and contraception,
  4. freedom from violence
  5. time
  6. freedom of movement,
  7. role models and support networks and
  8. financial inclusion.

What it takes to secure the elements will change over time and ideas on how to realize economic empowerment will need to be regularly re-examined. Furthermore, the elements are highly interrelated. The core idea of the elements is that economic empowerment is a system, not a series of steps to be tackled in sequence. Where one element is strong, it makes it easier to strengthen others; where one is weak, others are at risk of weakening

All eight elements have seen big improvements over the past few decades: more girls are now going to school, accessing healthcare and benefiting from new laws penalizing violence against women and girls. But too many in Asia and Africa still face disproportionate barriers to economic empowerment. In South Africa, for example, 60 percent of young women are unemployed compared to 47 percent of young men. And in at least eight countries across the two regions, a woman still needs her husband’s permission to get a job, according to the World Bank.

The need to act

While there have been significant improvements across the elements over the past several decades, especially in girls’ enrolment in school, access to healthcare and the introduction of laws penalizing violence against women and girls, girls, and young women still face disproportionate barriers to economic empowerment in Africa and Asia. In South Africa, for example, 60 per cent of young women are unemployed compared to 48.6 percent of young men, while in at least eight countries in Africa and nine in Asia, women still need their husbands’ permission to get a job.

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Gaps and neglected areas

Only around 20 percent of donor funding for gender equality includes a focus on girls and/or young women. Africa receives more of this funding than Asia, both in total and per capita. Healthcare is the largest sector recipient, followed by education. Across both regions, there is a clear need for more engagement with community gatekeepers (especially men and boys), partnerships, products, and services tailored to girls’ needs, research and evidence and funding. In terms of the elements, most activity is concentrated on providing access to economic opportunities – education, in particular. Interviewees did note a need, however, for more initiatives linking girls and young women to employment opportunities once they have built skills. Few actors are working on social, cultural and political enablers such as time poverty or financial inclusion; where they do address these, healthcare is the primary focus, followed by freedom of movement and freedom from violence.

What works and what doesn’t

Holistic interventions that recognize and address the multiple constraints girls face with a given issue are more effective than those that focus on one constraint alone. An example would be accessing contraceptives while also having to deal with the community stigma surrounding their use. Another example is initiatives that engage gatekeepers, which are often more successful when they include men, boys, and older women. Lastly, initiatives
that provide relevant information to girls regarding the costs and benefits of their options, such as the earning potential of different career paths, have been shown to result in girls making better choices. For education and employment specifically, a combination of funding, tailored teaching methods and vocational training has proven effective, especially where the latter is paired with job placements.


  1. Create more forums for partnership and coordinated action.
  2. Include workplace readiness and job placement programmes for wage labor in education initiatives to better support girls’ transition to the earning world.
  3. Provide more gatekeeper engagement – particularly when it comes to men, boys, and older women – and share lessons on what is working and what isn’t.
  4. Provide more funding, more diverse funding and better access to existing funding, especially for community organizations that lack the capacity to source and apply for funding.
  5. Create more businesses that provide better goods and services to girls and young women.
  6. Provide more role models and girls’ support networks and find ways of exposing girls to these at more junctures, including at schools and during the transition to work.

Download the full report here…