Learn how the World Bank Group is helping countries with COVID-19 (coronavirus). Find Out


New Evidence Highlights What Works to Empower Girls and Young Women

August 11, 2014


Girls with little or no education are far more likely to be married as children, suffer domestic violence, and live in poverty than better-educated peers.

Tom Perry/World Bank

  • Despite recent advances in important aspects of the lives of girls and young women, pervasive challenges remain.
  • New impact evaluation briefs released by the World Bank Group shed new light on what works in development interventions.
  • The briefs address critical issues: education, child marriage, and sexual and reproductive health.

Washington, August 11, 2014—Educating, empowering, and employing the largest-ever generation of young people is vital to ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity—the World Bank Group's twin corporate goals. New impact evaluation (IE) briefs by the World Bank Group (WBG), released ahead of International Youth Day 2014, shed new light on what works in development interventions targeting girls and young women, who still account for a disproportionate share of the world’s poor and face persistent inequalities at home, school, and work that help keep them and their families in poverty.

These briefs are accessible through enGENDER IMPACT, a resource point capturing World Bank Group gender-related IEs from January 2000 onward. enGENDER IMPACT aims to support global knowledge-sharing and uptake of key lessons and to encourage more and better impact evaluations on key gender topics. The briefs address critical issues for today’s youth: education, child marriage, and sexual and reproductive health.

  • Girls with little or no education are far more likely to be married as children, suffer domestic violence, live in poverty, and lack a say over household spending and their own health care than better-educated peers, which harms them, their future children, and communities. "Leveling the Playing Field: Lessons from World Bank Group Gender Impact Evaluations on Education" draws on 27 IEs in 18 countries, finding that structural interventions combined with individual and family level financial incentives show the greatest promise for improving education outcomes and leveling the playing field for girls—who still battle structural, social, and financial barriers that prevent their enrollment, attendance, and school completion. 
  • "Preventing Child Marriage: Lessons from World Bank Group Gender Impact Evaluations" notes the powerful link between child marriage and poverty as well as educational opportunities: Across 18 of the 20 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage, girls with no education are up to six times more likely to marry early than girls with a secondary education. This brief synthesizes seven IEs and finds that programs effective in delaying marriage do so by supporting girls’ educational attainment, increasing their perceived value, and expanding their opportunities. Promising interventions are beginning to address the drivers of child marriage, but more rigorous, long-term evaluations are needed. Successful efforts show promise for breaking the cycle of poverty and promoting a more empowered, educated, and employed generation of young women.
  • One in five girls in developing countries becomes pregnant before age 18, and pregnancy-related causes account for the most deaths among girls 15-19 in the developing world—nearly 70,000 each year. Millions of young women across the globe are constrained in exercising their sexual and reproductive rights. "Advancing Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health: Lessons from World Bank Group Gender Impact Evaluations" draws on seven IEs to distill lessons learned about programs aimed at giving women and girls control over their own sexual and reproductive health (SRH) —including decisions that determine their risk for both HIV and other sexually transmitted infections as well as unintended, inadequately spaced, and early pregnancies. Implementing comprehensive, interactive interventions in schools and community settings, increasing access to education, and promoting girls’ empowerment all show promise in improving SRH outcomes, particularly among adolescents.

Meeting the needs of the 1.8 billion people now aged 10 to 24 and helping them achieve their productive potential “will define the world’s future,” UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin has said.

A major new WBG report released in May 2014, Voice and Agency: Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperityechoes this idea and distills promising strategies for expanding opportunities for young women globally—including preventing child marriage, increasing educational attainment, and improving their sexual and reproductive health options.

Despite recent advances in important aspects of the lives of girls, pervasive challenges remain, frequently as a result of widespread deprivations and constraints. These often violate girls’ most basic rights and are magnified and multiplied by poverty and lack of education.

This report and these new research briefs highlight the importance of empowering and investing in girls and young women, which conveys broad benefits across generations.