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    'Girl effect'


    International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2009

    Screen shot from - www.thegirleffect.org

    Investing in young women is at the heart of any country's long-term development and prosperity, according to leading voices that emerged at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January.

    Women are particularly vulnerable during times of economic downturn - they're at greatest risk of losing their jobs and, in many developing countries, girls are taken out of school to help support their families. Yet, paradoxically, females hold the best hope for improving local economies, according to leading voices that emerged at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January.

    The premise that young women hold the key to economic recovery has been referred to as the 'Girl Effect', a reference to www.thegirleffect.org, an initiative of the Nike Foundation. In a nutshell, evidence states that extra years of education for girls result in higher salaries for working women; that women reinvest far more of their salaries into their families than men; and that the children of working women are healthier and better educated themselves.

    Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director of the World Bank in Washington DC, told the Forum: 'Investing in women is smart economics. Investing in girls - catching them upstream - is even smarter economics.' In her experience, investing in girls will have tremendous impacts on the Millennium Development Goals and will help resolve poverty, population, family welfare and climate change issues.

    Session panelists agreed that allowing women to access elementary rights would make a huge difference to their own condition and those of their families, but more so, would positively impact the world's economy. Key areas proposed to maximize this effect would be for governments to implement firm legal protection and the right to property for women - as an essential base on which enterprise could be developed - as well as specifically tailored health and education programmes for women and girls.

    Mari Pangestu, Indonesian Minister for Trade described how women in power become role models in society and are essential to inducing a cultural shift in values - away from women solely getting married and having children. She underlined the importance of women in decision-making roles, stressing that they do not make the same type of decisions as men: when a woman is made into a local leader, 'she's going to pick clean water rather than a satellite dish in your village...If only men are making decisions in reconstruction, they will not be making the decisions that absorb the women who have lost their jobs.'

    Nobel Prize-winning economist Muhammad Yunus concurred with Pangestu's emphasis on property rights for women. His impetus behind establishing the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh was to provide small loans to women who, without land title or other forms of collateral, could neither establish nor grow businesses. Recently, the bank has introduced incentives that encourage land title to be in the wife's name. He mentioned that there had been some early concerns that women's increased financial independence might lead to higher divorce rates. To the contrary, however, the bank has found that men are far less inclined to divorce women who have title over the family home.

    Of course, literacy is a key factor in business development, and the theme of education was central to the debate and raised by all panelists. Okonjo-Iweala told the panel, '70% of children removed from the educational system are girls. It is critically important for family welfare, country welfare and global welfare that girls are placed at the centre of education.' Pangestu stated governments should ensure girls are not taken out of school, particularly during times of crisis. Further, she added, specific incentives should be implemented, such as the conditional cash grant scheme in Mexico 'linked to girls staying in school'.

    Health services and health education specifically tailored to women and young girls will also have remarkable impacts, according to Muhammad Yunus and Melinda French Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the United States. She explained how these services need to be tailored to local needs, especially in rural areas where most women don't have access to health facilities. Health information and family planning should target girls as young as 10, which would not only prevent maternal mortality but also improve infant health. 'Our society is changing,' she said. 'Young girls need to have these messages earlier. If we can get these messages out, we can be hopeful these girls will learn how to protect themselves and learn how to plan the birth of their children.'

    Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) went further: 'Women and young girls are also subjected to sexual violence from a very early age in many parts of the world in absolute impunity. This has to stop! Not only do we need to protect girls, we have to change the attitude of men and boys and how they treat women.' Sexual violence can indeed have dramatic implications on health, notably on the spread of HIV/AIDS and impacts on education and poverty.

    In concluding the debate, Mark G. Parker, President of the Nike Foundation, acknowledged that much remained to be done. The 'Girl Effect' campaign, which links empowering the girl-child to the future of humanity, is one contribution. A bigger catalyst for change within our reach is for world leaders to leverage the global economic crisis to question some of the social foundations on which the economy is based. In crafting solutions to the crisis that help realize the potential of the 600 million girls around the world, investments can be redirected to 'the most neglected, at risk, unsupported part of the world's population, (which) also happens to be the part...that can make the biggest impact': the girl.

    Screen shot from - www.thegirleffect.org

    The World Economic Forum, held in Davos, included a panel on the potential of women and girls to bring about positive social and economic impacts for their communities and the world. The session panel included: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director, World Bank, Washington DC; Melinda French Gates, Co-Chair, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Mari Pangestu, Minister for Trade, Indonesia; Mark G. Parker, CEO and President, Nike and the Nike Foundation; Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Chair, Global Agenda Council on the Welfare of Children; Muhammad Yunus, Managing Director, Grameen Bank, Bangladesh; and Helene D. Gayle, President and CEO, CARE USA.