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Linking girls’ education with healthier, safer transitions to adulthood

By Ann Warner, International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)

Governments, civil society and the private sector recognise that education can be a transformative force for individuals as well as societies. Decades of research support the associations between women’s educational attainment and improved maternal health, child nutrition, economic growth and gender equality. Adolescent girls are the link between education and these positive outcomes. When girls stay in school through their adolescence, they delay marriage and pregnancy, and they acquire the skills and information needed to be healthy and productive adults.

However, adolescent girls are still underserved by the field of international development, including the education and population and reproductive health sectors. Despite their shared long-term vision of individual empowerment and collective social and economic development, the strategies used by these sectors are frequently disjointed. The education sector has primarily focused on improving access to school, and less on retention and quality of education that will make it safe and relevant to girls and their families. The population and reproductive health sector has developed “girl-friendly” strategies to provide girls with information and resources, but has not worked much through the educational system.

By working together, we can help to ensure that schools – whether formal or non-formal – are equipping girls for transitions to adult roles, including work, family life and citizenship. School provides the information, training, and services that are the building blocks of marketable skills and social capital. When schooling – whether formal, informal, vocational or technical – is linked to the opportunities in the labour market, it will be more attractive and beneficial to both girls and their parents. When school is safe, affordable, accessible and relevant, parents are more likely to keep girls in school rather than marrying them early. Through school, girls can acquire life skills that will help them delay marriage and pregnancy. Finally, schooling can provide the information, training, and exposure to increase the awareness and skills of girls to contribute to public life. When girls are more active in school and public life, family and community members will begin to see them as active and valued participants in society.

The education sector holds tremendous promise for adolescent girls and their futures. It provides the platform to reach girls at scale and to provide the basic building blocks for a healthier life. The population and reproductive health field can lend strategies and resources to make schools more “girl-friendly” and more empowering. To do that, we will need to reach across our sectors and form new partnerships that will give all girls the resources for healthier and safer transitions to empowered adulthood.


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Ann Warner is the Gender and Policy Specialist at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and leads the organisation’s community of practice on adolescent-focused research, programmes and policies. She has more than 10 years of experience in research and programme development in international health and policy issues, with a focus on women and girls.