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Looking for Impact? Invest in a Girl

March 8, 2012

International Women’s Day: 35 Years Later

Kate Hovde

Kate Hovde, Senior Analyst

Today marks International Women’s Day, a day declared in 1977 to be the United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace. Thirty-five years later, how are we doing?

The good news

According to the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development, on a world-wide basis, gender gaps in education at the primary level have nearly closed, and those at the secondary level are narrowing. Women now live an average of 20 years longer than they did in 1960, and since 1980 women live longer than men in all parts of the world. Maternal mortality has declined and women’s economic participation across sectors has improved.

But world-wide averages mask significant inter and intra-national differences that are opportunities for donors to make an important impact:

  • If you are a low-income girl in any country, your prospects are worse than those of your wealthier peers.
  • If you are a low-income girl in a low-income country, your prospects are probably even worse.
  • If you are a low-income girl in a low-income country with significant cultural limitations on women and/or certain ethnic groups, or ongoing conflict, life can look pretty bleak.
  • And if you are a girl in some countries (China and India, for example), you simply have less chance of being born in the first place.

Back to the good news: public awareness regarding the importance of investments in women and girls has been gaining ground over the last few decades, thanks in part to research and advocacy efforts. These include the work of organizations such as the International Center for Research on Women, the Population Council, and the Center for Global Development, which collaborated on the Girls Count series of reports and recommendations. Other efforts include the Girl Effect campaign (see video above), the “Girls Not Brides” campaign, and the 10×10 campaign.

As a donor, returns can be big

For example:

  • Economic returns to investments in girls’ secondary education have been estimated as high as 25 percent of eventual wages (Shultz 2002, cited in Girls Count 2009)
  • Investments in girls’ education and health have also been consistently linked to better outcomes for their children. For example, a study in Pakistan found that children whose mothers have even a single year of education spent on average an extra hour studying at home and report higher test scores than peers whose mothers had no education (Andrabi, Das, and Kahwaja 2011; Dumas and Lambert 2011 cited in 2012 World Development Report)
  • The World Bank estimates that eliminating barriers that discriminate against women working in certain sectors or occupations could increase labor productivity by as much as 25 percent in some countries.

For donors concerned with maximizing social impact, investing in improving the health, education, and access to capital and other resources for a disadvantaged girl is a clear winner. So this International Women’s Day, consider investing in a girl.

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