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Girls need to be involved in gathering, understanding, and using data about themselves

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International Day of the Girl and 'A Skilled Girlforce'

Sope Otulana, MUVA, GirlForce

Each year the International Day of the Girl has a designated theme, and this year’s is ‘A Skilled GirlForce’. The intention is to kick off a year-long effort to bring together partners and stakeholders to highlight, advocate for, and invest in girls’ most pressing needs and opportunities to attain skills for employability. This year, we also have the chance to hear from girls about how best to support them in successfully rising to their individual potential and driving economic progress and stability in their families, communities, and countries.

A growing body of evidence

Globally, there is a growing body of evidence from policy and practice that points to what works to promote the aspirations of vulnerable girls and remove the barriers that keep them from achieving them. Evidence about what works can be drawn from numerous programmes working to empower girls to thrive in the emerging markets in STEM fields, access finance, and prosper as entrepreneurs. For instance, Plan International’s Saksham Programme confronts social and practical barriers girls living in slums in Delhi face in accessing decent work. In UNICEF’s Social Innovation Labs in Jordan, adolescent girls in Azraq and Za’atari refugee camps work alongside their male peers to develop inventive solutions to everyday problems, and are empowered to explore pathways to employment.    

OPM’s MUVA programme (which produced the video above) is currently testing interventions that aim to empower adolescent girls and young women living in Mozambique’s urban centres to access decent labour, transition from school to the workforce, and increase their incomes. For example, MUVAtitude seeks to improve girls’ employability through soft skills training, vocational and technical training, and support to find a job. Taking a different approach, MUVA Pro Privado aims to identify and support champions in the private sector to engage, promote, and adopt gender sensitive policies and practices in their businesses. MUVA Assistentes, meanwhile, aims to increase the employability of young women to engage in formal sector employment, through on-the-job experience and mentoring. In each of the above interventions, rigorous monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) systems are in place to establish how effective the programmes have been to date, and how best to extend or develop future programming.

MUVA’s mandate includes establishing an evidence base for what works (and conversely, what doesn’t work) to help some of the most vulnerable girls transition successfully into work. Of the eight-10 interventions being tested through the programme’s activities, some have worked well, and others have not. MEL data provide a basis for understanding how different interventions are performing, and regular reflection sessions guide the decision making process.

Full participation

As part of the programme’s research activities, earlier this year we conducted the ‘MUVA Urban Youth Survey’ to obtain a statistical profile of the youth living in the MUVA target areas in Maputo and Beira to help inform policies about female economic empowerment and connected areas such as education, youth employment, family planning, and financial and digital inclusion.

But the girls are not merely the subjects of the research. We invited girls and their wider communities to participate in the interpretation of the data that were about them, and become key stakeholders in the dissemination of the survey’s findings. This is not solely because agency is important (although, of course, it is). Rather, we recognise that nobody is better placed than the girls themselves to speak to the social complexities involved in developing the skills they need, and removing the barriers they face, to becoming a force within the labour market—gender stereotypes, relationships with men and boys, navigating power imbalance, and finding space to exercise their agency. But we also recognise that they cannot do this alone. By inviting their families and other community members to these sessions, we made sure that awareness spreads beyond the girls themselves and that everyone gets encouraged to start thinking of solutions together. Through this exercise, the way we approach these data in the MUVA programme is now closer to girls’ realities, and their definitions of success guide our reflections about what works and how we will design and assess future interventions.

This year’s International Day of the Girl is an opportunity for global policy, research, and implementation actors to consider our response to the call to action to develop a skilled ‘GirlForce’, with inclusivity as a priority. In our shared aim put girls in control of the trajectory of their working lives, there is also an opportunity to improve the relevance and value of these efforts by engaging girls themselves in collecting and interpreting the evidence, and in defining and measuring whether or not interventions are effective. There’s an opportunity to innovate around how we ask girls themselves ‘What’s your definition of transformative change, and are we on track?’ For example, GirlEffect’s TEGA approach uses innovative mobile technology to engage girls to collect and analyse data from their peers, providing data that improves their understanding of what it means to empower girls in some of the hardest to reach communities. The MUVA team’s low-tech approach to allowing girls to literally ‘squeeze the data’ represented by stacked solution means even girls in poorly connected places can participate in shaping our understanding of what types of interventions are likely to achieve impact .  

We add these insights to the many studies on girls’ lives and the crucial period of a girls’ adolescence working to build a better picture of girls’ needs and what works to support them.  In 2016, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation committed $80 million to closing the gender data gap, recognising the power of data to make girls’ realities visible and counted – and to reveal where efforts to empower them could be enhanced. Might a first step in this empowerment be equipping them to play a central role in how evidence about them is gathered, understood, and used?

Image credit: SAPhotog / Shutterstock.com