Strong Girls, Powerful Women: Program Planning and Design for Adolescent Girls in Humanitarian Settings
In most countries, adolescent girls face disadvantages compared to their male peers in family roles, divisions of labor, and access to resources because they are female and young. Even before conflicts erupt or natural disasters occur, adolescent girls’ transition from childhood to adulthood is shaped by rigid expectations that have negative implications for their access to health services, schooling, and other life-shaping opportunities.
In conflict and displacement settings, the institutions, systems, and community cohesion that normally support girls’ development, protect them from violence, and uphold their human rights are weakened or destroyed.
Family and community structures break down, while traditional and social norms disintegrate, affecting adolescent girls in unique and devastating ways.
Yet, adolescent girls in humanitarian settings should not just be seen as a vulnerable group; girls possess enormous capacity for becoming a source of transformation in their families and communities. Growing evidence supports that investing in girls’ economic and social empowerment can reduce their risks of experiencing violence and is an effective pathway to sustainable development.
Likewise, conflict and crisis situations often lead to shifting gender roles that open up possibilities for positive social changes, resulting in an opportunity for gender norms to change for the better.
The Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) has worked for a number of years on promoting effective economic opportunities for women to mitigate their risk of experiencing gender-based violence (GBV). A key finding to emerge from this work was the necessity to undertake a specific initiative on adolescent girls aged 10-16 years old—for whom direct employment may not be age-appropriate, yet building employment-readiness skills is critical. In 2010, a three-year global advocacy project entitled Protecting and Empowering Displaced Adolescent Girls Initiative was launched to find ways to equip adolescent girls in humanitarian settings with skills and resources to transition safely to adulthood and prepare them for developing safe, dignified livelihoods.
In collaboration with implementing partners, the WRC tested promising approaches in adolescent girls’ programming by applying the learning from development contexts in pilot programs in three displacement settings.
The initiative explored alternative means of empowerment to protect adolescent girls by establishing safe spaces as portals where displaced girls can build confidence and agency while gaining critical skills for their future livelihoods.
This report synthesizes the findings from:
• Desk research and key informant interviews
• In-country assessments from refugee camps in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda
• Learning to date from pilot programs in three refugee camps in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda
This document is intended to help humanitarian practitioners more effectively identify and address the unique needs of adolescent girls in displacement and crisis settings. It also provides donors and policy makers, who have the ability to drive change in humanitarian programming, with guidance on how to make sustainable impact for adolescent girls.