How Can the Bank Help Young Women Find Work?

July 22, 2010

  • The World Bank launches The Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI) to address opportunities for adolescent girls and young women
  • The AGI will help girls and young women stay in school and avoid early pregnancy and marriage while building capital assets and finding jobs
  • AGI project teams from seven countries recently met to share their experiences

July 22, 2010 -When young women engage in productive work they raise their incomes, lift their families from poverty, often delay marriage and childbirth, and increase investment in their children's health and education, all important implications for poverty reduction, and potential economic growth. Yet for developing countries as a whole, 34 percent of young women are estimated to be 'jobless' - unemployed, out of the labor force, and not in school. Too many girls are stalled between school and productive work.

The 600 million adolescent girls and young women that live in the developing world still do not have the same opportunities as young men. In order to address this issue the Bank launched the Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI) in October 2008. The AGI is part of the the World Bank Group's Gender Action Plan-Gender Equality as Smart Economics-which is helping to increase women's access to the labor market, agricultural land and technology, credit and infrastructure services. And in addition, the AGI is one of President Zoellick's six commitments to promote gender equality via economic empowerment.

The AGI aims to help girls and young women stay in school, avoid early pregnancy and marriage, build capital assets and find jobs, thus helping them gain financial independence and become productive members of society. To do this the initiative promotes transition from school to decent work for girls and young women aged 16-24 by helping them build skills that match market demand, find mentors and job placements.

Last week AGI project teams from seven countries met at Bank HQ to share their recent experiences, and brain storm on what really works to help young women into work. The teams are located in some of the most challenging low income and post-conflict countries: Afghanistan, Liberia, Nepal, Rwanda, and South Sudan. Two new countries - Jordan and Lao PDR just joined the AGI. Because the evidence on what works in facilitating the transition of adolescent girls and young women to productive work is thin, an essential part of the pilot projects from the beginning has been a spirit of collaboration and innovation.

The AGI is essentially a work in progress; that is being informed by rigorous impact evaluations and feedback from project teams. During the meeting Eve Lotter and Dala Korkoyah - from the Ministry of Gender, and who manage the Liberia AGI, shared with the group how their recruitment process had changed once they realized that basic literacy prevented many candidates from signing up for training. The project team is now designing a literacy component that will complement the second round of training and allow the project to reach the most vulnerable girls and young women.

The teams shared these kinds of important insights over a two day workshop, and heard from other development professionals from both inside, and outside of the bank, on what has worked in various settings to empower this vital source of untapped potential.

The Bank's donor partners in the AGI are the governments of Australia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and The Nike Foundation. 

Investing in adolescent girls translates into future gains

  • An extra year of secondary schooling for girls can increase their future wages by10% to 20%.
  • In 14 sub-Saharan Africa countries, women with 7-10 years of schooling had from 0.2 to 0.7 fewer children than women with no schooling.
  • Cross-country evidence suggests that increases in women's employment in theapparel industry—where most employees are young women—is associated with lower rates of fertility.
  • In Bangladesh, young women who participated in a group-based credit program had higher per capita household expenditures and significantly lower fertility—almost 40% lower whenborrowing the mean amount.
  • Across Indian states, higher female labor force participation was associated with more rapid growth.