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Theories & Approaches

All Theories & Approaches

International Girls Development

"The girl in every woman precedes and shapes the woman in her. And to the extent to which girlhood is denied, liberated, and fostered, womanhood perishes or prospers."

Sohoni, 19951

This article is divided into the following sections:


The United Nations reported in their report "Enabling Environment for the Empowerment of Adolescent Girls" (1995) that "despite widespread progress in improving the health, nutrition and education of children, the situation of girls continues to be disadvantaged compared to that of boys in many parts of the world."

  • Parents prefer to have a son to a daughter in many countries of the world.
  • Worldwide, approximately 500 million children start primary school, but more than 100 million children, two thirds of them girls, drop out before completing four years of primary school. Girls are not encouraged as much as boys to further their studies and develop their careers.
  • Girls are often seen as less important to family and community life than boys.
  • Millions of girls are raised in an environment of neglect, overwork and often abuse simply because they are female.
  • In many countries, girls are fed less than their brothers, forced to work harder, provided less schooling and denied equal access to medical care.
  • (Girls) marry earlier and face greater risks of dying in adolescence and early adulthood because of early and too closely spaced pregnancies."2

Given the problems listed above, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child requires governments to pay special attention to laws, policies and programs for girls. In addition, non-governmental organizations have made significant progress in raising the visibility of girls’ labor before the International Labor Organization.3


Program Profile: Adolescent Girls Program — Dhaka, Bangladesh

The Center for Mass Education and Science at Dhaka, Bangladesh has designed the Adolescent Girls Program (AGP). The program develops teacher training manuals and student curricula, and trains staff. The goal of AGP is to provide girls with a better future through:

  • developing important life skills,
  • providing an awareness and establishment of their rights, and
  • promoting the delay of marriage during adolescence.

The program is one of the first interventions targeting 3,000 adolescent girls in Bangladesh. The AGP was cited as one of the ten most successful examples in a 1996 Population Council publication "Innovative Programmatic Approaches Towards Working with Adolescent Girls."

The cultural factors that affect young girls in Dhaka include:

  • early marriage,
  • dowry requirements,
  • being perceived as a burden by their families,
  • discrimination at the household and community level with respect to their health, education needs, and
  • restricted participation in making decisions that affect their lives.1

The AGP works to empower 11-19-year-old girls by implementing several activities:

  1. The girls are enrolled in a basic school system that includes life-oriented, non-formal education. To help avoid early marriage, the school encourages students and graduates to stay enrolled in the program until they are 18.
  2. The program publishes a quarterly magazine for girls called Kishori, which includes leadership and skills training, reproductive health information, and business and marketing education.
  3. A credit program, based on a group-lending model, is also made available. Eligibility requirements for the credit program include:
    • membership in the school,
    • completion of the first two years of school, and
    • being between the ages of 11 and 18.
Girls who marry before the age of 18 are not allowed to continue in the credit program.4

More information about the Adolescent Girls Program can be found at: and


Program Profile: Casa de Passagem — Recife, Brazil

Established in 1986, Casa de Passagem is a peer education model that has been recognized around the world for its innovative work with poor girls. The goal of the program is to self-empower girls while teaching them about their rights as women and citizens. Casa de Passagem combats poverty by giving the poor a reason for struggling for a better and more dignified society.

Factors that affect young girls in Brazil include:

  • The Brazilian Center for Childhood and Adolescence (CBIA) has recently estimated that there are about 500,000 girls who have turned to prostitution to earn a living. Some of these girls are as young as nine years old.
  • Because women have limited access to occupations and resources, they are the ones hardest hit during economic crises.5

Casa de Passagem operates on the following principles:

  1. Integrating young female prostitutes and street youth into the community by providing them with a place to take a shower, do laundry, rest, eat, socialize and meet with educators, social workers, counselors, medical professionals and teachers.
  2. Defending the rights of adolescent girls by providing information about conflict, loss of virginity, rape, physical violence, unwanted pregnancy, exploitation, and anatomy and physiology.
  3. Promoting community responsibility through organized action by training young prostitutes to become peer educators.
  4. Giving adolescent girls a voice to speak their desires, emotions and experiences. Peer educators go out into the community to educate other street girls about health, sexuality, gender and citizenship.
  5. Providing a caring listener, and respecting and learning from what girls say. Staff and peer educators work with courtesy, affection and positive attention to open new and positive aspects of human relationships with the young prostitutes.6

More information about Casa de Passagem can be found at:


Video Profile: Philippines

Culturally and gender sensitive materials can play a major role in reaching adolescent girls. Here are two such examples from the Philippines funded by the United Nations Population Fund:


  • A video giving the message "protect yourself" was designed with modern music, which appeal to adolescent girls in the Philippines. The video tells the story of a young girl upset over her unplanned pregnancy.7
  • In the provinces of Kalinga, Ifugao and Apayao, a video was designed for indigenous adolescent girls. The video tells the story of Mai-Mai and gives the message of pursuing education as an investment in the future rather than following the tradition of early marriage.7

For more information, see


Recommended Strategies

A 1994 study by Kurz, Peplinsky and Johnson-Welch proposed six strategies for improving adolescent girls' nutritional, social and economic status.8 Their strategies include:

  1. Improving adolescents' food intake. For more information, see the American Dietetic Association's child and adolescent food and nutrition programs at
  2. Keeping girls in school. For more information, see UNICEF's "Commentary: Keeping Girls in School" at
  3. Improving adolescents' health. For more information, see UCSF's "Improving Adolescent Health" report at
  4. Enhancing girls' self esteem. For more information on girls development, see ReCAPP's Topic in Brief on Girls' Development. For more information on youth development, see ReCAPP's Youth Development and Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention in the Theories and Approaches section.



1 United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women. (1995). Enabling Environment for the Empowerment of Adolescent Girls.
2 United Nations. (1995). Women: Looking Beyond 2000. New York, NY.
3 Friedman, S.A. Girls 2000.
4 Esim, S., Varia, N. and Durón, G. (1999). Adolescent livelihoods: A selective review of issues and programs. UNICEF Inter-Country Project on Adolescent Girls.
5 de Oliveira, S. B. (1995). Child prostitution on the rise in Brazil. International Child Resource Institute.
6 Vasconcelos, A. (1999). Making the harm visible: Global sexual exploitation of women and girls. Speaking out and providing services. Casa de Passagem in Brazil. The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.
7 United Nations Population Fund. (2001). Empower Girls to Delay Pregnancy until Physical and Emotional Maturity.
8 Kurtz, K. Johnson-Welch, C. (1995). Adolescent Fertility and Reproductive Health: A needs assessment in the English speaking Caribbean for the Pew Charitable Trusts. Washington, DC: ICRW.