Adolescent girls aged 10 to 18 hold the keys to a more sustainable future, but they require immense support to fully unlock their potential.

Young women in developing countries are the most vulnerable to extreme poverty and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the everyday challenges that they already faced, disrupting the limited sources and services they had. Their basic necessities — from food and health care to education and safety — are threatened on a daily basis. 

But with the right tools and resources, girls can lift themselves and their families up and break cycles of poverty across their communities and the world.

As part of our year-long campaign, End Extreme Poverty NOW — Our Future Can’t Wait, Global Citizen is calling on the world to Empower Girls NOW.  

Girls must be at the heart of recovery plans across the globe, and investments need to prioritize gender equality as a crucial aspect of the fight to end extreme poverty. Key international efforts require $400 million right now to address girls’ poverty and reach millions of young women in immediate need. In the long term, that number rises to the tens of billions. 

G7 leaders in particular need to commit to new investments in girls’ education, nutrition, and health — including sexual and reproductive health and rights — while also tackling the unpaid care work crisis

Here’s everything you need to know about how ending extreme poverty starts with investing in adolescent girls, and why it’s urgent that we take action now.

Why Is Investing in Adolescent Girls Crucial to Ending Extreme Poverty NOW?

Women and girls make up half the population. When they are in jeopardy of extreme poverty in low-income countries, their success is critical to ensuring everyone can thrive. 

Girls may be the world’s largest and most vulnerable population but they are the most likely to contribute to poverty reduction. Investments in girls’ education, food and nutrition, and access to basic health care and family planning can help end poverty, and these are crucial in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that reversed years of progress toward achieving gender equality and the United Nations’ Global Goals.

Adolescent girls are disenfranchised in several areas that contribute to the causes of extreme poverty and it’s necessary to address the gaps before it’s too late to reverse the damage. 

A third of the world's poorest girls, between the ages of 10 and 18, have never attended school, and in rural areas across the globe, 61% of girls do not attend secondary school. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in more learning losses for girls than for boys, as well as an increased risk of facing child labor, gender-based violence, early marriage, and pregnancy.

Of the 811 million people who are food insecure around the world, nearly 60% are women and girls.

What’s more, millions of girls and women affected by the COVID-19 pandemic globally are experiencing a lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care services, putting them at increased risk of complications, unintended pregnancies, and maternal death.

3 Key Facts You Should Know About the Issue 

  • Of the 811 million people who are food insecure around the world, nearly 60% are women and girls.
  • A third of the world's poorest girls, aged between 10 and 18, have never attended school.
  • A global COVID-19 recovery that centers on women and girls could be the difference between 47 million more women and girls falling into extreme poverty or reaching their full potential.

How Many People Could Be Lifted Out of Extreme Poverty by Investing in Adolescent Girls? 

It’s estimated that by 2030, 588 million people could still live in extreme poverty, an additional 50 million people compared to pre-COVID-19 estimates. Poverty rates between boys and girls are similar, but a stark difference becomes apparent in rates during childhood. Girls and women face disproportionate impacts and vulnerability to social and economic instability, which continue into adulthood and are difficult to stop without intervention. 

A global COVID-19 recovery that centers women and girls could be the difference between 47 million more women and girls falling into extreme poverty or reaching their full potential.

Who Would Benefit the Most from Investing in Adolescent Girls? 

Empowering girls by supporting their education, health, and nutrition has a widespread ripple effect. Everyone benefits politically, economically, and socially when we invest in women and girls. Investing in adolescent girls can not only ease the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic but also build up resilience against future crises. 

In countries where women are among the top leaders in legislatures, income inequality and corruption are lower. Empowering women creates more career opportunities for men within jobs that have been stereotypically gendered. And for every year of additional schooling a girl receives, her country’s climate resilience improves. 

What Do We Need to Achieve to Empower Adolescent Girls, and How?

Adolescent girls need immediate, targeted, multi-year support and funding, particularly from G7 countries, for nutrition, access to education, and health, including sexual and reproductive health services, and to solve the child care crisis. 

Leaders must work with international organizations to deliver on the promises made at the United Nations Food Systems Summit and the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit in 2021 to tackle global hunger and improve nutrition by distributing funding that reaches adolescent girls who are most in need. School meal programs are also crucial for girls’ success, since they are frequently the only nutritional meal a girl might have during the day and can improve learning outcomes, while also fueling local agriculture and economies. 

A coalition of governments and stakeholders launched the School Meals Coalition, to strengthen school meal systems around the world. The initiative now requires full funding and coordination to improve school meal quality and reach 73 million of the most vulnerable youth. 

Improving access to modern contraception methods is another important pillar to helping girls stay in school, delay marriage, avoid unwanted pregnancy, and increase lifetime economic earnings. 

Meanwhile, investment in the care economy could funnel trillions of dollars to the global economy, and create more than 43 million jobs worldwide. The World Bank Childcare Incentive Fund is working with low- and middle-income countries to develop new policies and programs to address the childcare crisis and empower women and girls in the care economy. Governments need to commit $100 million in new funding to the World Bank’s investments in childcare.

The private sector has a role to play, too, and can implement policies that acknowledge and address the unequal burden of unpaid care by subsidizing child care costs, providing paid parental leave, and promoting flexible work schedules. 

Who Are Some of the Key Players Investing in Adolescent Girls to End Extreme Poverty Now?

In addition to the World Bank and the School Meals Coalition, several organizations and initiatives are already in place to support adolescent girls and end extreme poverty but need more support.

Education Cannot Wait (ECW), a global fund dedicated to addressing education in emergencies, has helped more than 1.27 million girls continue to learn during times of crisis. ECW tackles the roadblocks preventing girls in crisis from attending school, and promotes the integration of a gender lens in education policies and practices. The organization provides students, especially girls, with access to nutritious meals, clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, and kits containing reusable sanitary pads. 

ECW has a goal of $1 billion in funding for 2023-2026, and it’s key that governments make initial pledges in 2022. 

On the sexual and reproductive health front, the United Nations’ UNFPA Supplies Partnership reaches more than 20 million women and girls annually. A fully funded UNFPA Supplies Partnership has the potential to prevent more than 12 million unintended pregnancies and more than 250,000 maternal and child deaths by 2030. 

Governments, the private sector, and foundations need to increase funding — by committing $232 million — to fully sustain the UNFPA Supplies Partnership. 

What Action Can We All Take to Invest in Girls to End Extreme Poverty Now? 

Global Citizen is campaigning to call on world leaders to empower girls. Help us demand that world leaders, governments, and companies ensure every girl has the potential to achieve a brighter future. 

You can join the End Extreme Poverty NOW — Our Future Can't Wait campaign by signing up as a Global Citizen (either here or by downloading the Global Citizen app) and joining us in empowering girls NOW.

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Why Is Empowering Adolescent Girls Key to Ending Extreme Poverty NOW?

By Leah Rodriguez