"The Adolescent Girls Empowerment Programme is for the most vulnerable girls ages 10-19 in Zambia….Evidence shows that economic aspects of girls’ lives can act as key barriers in translating health knowledge into health behaviour change.” Karen Austrian

Panel Discussion: Spotlight on Progress "Securing the Way to Healthy Adulthood and Leadership for Girls"

Context: This presentation is from one of the 14 "Spotlights on Progress" video-recorded sessions from the Girl Summit 2014, London, United Kingdom (UK). The sessions were organised to share best practice between practitioners, grassroots activists, and government ministers across the issues of female genital mutilation (FGM) (also FGM/C - female genital mutilation/cutting) and child, early, and forced marriage (CEFM). Girl Summit is a project of the Department for International Development (DFID), UK.

Profile of speaker: A featured panelist of this Spotlight session was Karen Austrian, Population Council, whose presentation was entitled "Adolescent Girls Empowerment Programme, Zambia". (See related summaries below.) From the Population Council website: "Karen Austrian manages Population Council projects designed to empower girls in east and southern Africa. She develops, implements, and evaluates programs that build girls’ protective assets, such as financial literacy and sexual health and rights. Austrian is the lead author of Girl-Centered Program Design: A Toolkit to Develop, Strengthen and Expand Adolescent Girls Programs, a user-friendly guide that has been used by more than one thousand practitioners, policymakers, and donors in over two dozen countries.

Austrian has provided technical assistance on girls’ programs and policies to the World Bank, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Girl Hub, the Nike Foundation, and international, national, and community organizations. Before joining the Council in 2007, she co-founded and directed the Binti Pamoja Center, a program to empower adolescent girls in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya. (See related summaries below.)

Austrian has an MPH from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, where she was a Sharp Scholar and specialized in reproductive and adolescent health. She has a PhD in public health and epidemiology from Ben Gurion University in Israel. She speaks English, Hebrew, and Swahili and is based in the Council’s Nairobi office."

Strategy overview: The Adolescent Girls Empowerment Program is a DFID-funded programme to empower girls through social, health, and economic asset building. It has reached over 10,000 girls, ages 10-19, in 5 rural and 5 urban sites in Zambia with combinations of: 1) health, life skill,s and financial education during weekly girls group meetings over 2 years in "safe spaces" led by young women from the community; 2) vouchers entitling girls to health services provided by public and private facilities in the community; and 3) girl-friendly individual savings accounts developed in partnership with a Zambian financial institution. "The programme is designed to build social assets that will reduce vulnerability…..The Population Council is using a randomized controlled trial [RCT] design to evaluate the impact of these program elements and will be following the girls for the two-year duration of the program, as well as for two additional years after the program ends.  The survey includes annual face-to-face interviews, as well as testing for HIV and HSV2 [herpes simplex virus type-2]. "

This RCT is implemented with the plan of generating rigorous data on what works for girls and why, as well as a cost evaluation, so that there are data on how much every additional impact costs per girl per year. The purpose is to develop advocacy tools for the continuation of programmes that work for girls. The RCT is done in four different arms: the control group; safe spaces only; safe spaces plus the voucher; and safe spaces plus the voucher plus the savings account. This is designed to yield data on differences in the results of the various combinations.

Lessons that Ms. Austrian lists in her presentation:
•    The asset building approach focuses on building social, health, and economic assets for girls.
•    The duration of the programme shows a need to meet over a relatively long period of time (18-24 months) - longer has more potential for results.
•    The role of safe spaces works to allow for development of leadership and life skills.
•    There is power in girls getting together in social networks.
•    Building relationships with peers and female mentors yields results.
•    Adolescent girls are not a homogenous group, so there is a need to "sub-segment" by age, schooling status, marital status, and motherhood status.
•    Life skills including esteem building, capacity building, leadership building can give girls agency, but not without addressing economic aspects of girls’ lives, such as how to save and plan for future financial goals.

Overview of this Summit Session: From the Girl Summit summary document: "This spotlight highlighted initiatives that have piloted ideas or taken them to scale with measurable, positive results. From sports and financial literacy to reproductive health education and citizenship, these programmes are empowering girls with the life skills and leadership opportunities necessary for long-term success. Speakers will give specific examples of how their programmes are equipping girls with the right tools during this critical developmental period to deal with economic disparities, violence and harmful practices."

The speakers for this session are:

Dr. Rema Nanda, Founder and Trustee, JAGRITI Youth, India.

Iwalola Akin-Jimoh, Executive Director, Ovie Brume Foundation.

Karen Austrian, Population Council.

Furaha Pascal Karimiko, Moving The Goalposts Coach, Woman Win, Kenya.

Sheepa Hafiza, Director of Gender, Justice, Diversity and Migration, BRAC.

The session is moderated by Mike Thiedke, Director of Public Engagement, Plan International UK.

Footage of this (available below) and other "Spotlights" are available on DFID’s YouTube channel.

The Girl Summit is a project of DFID. Click here and scroll down to see the full list of individuals and organisations committed to working on girls' issues, as well as a list of Girl Summit Charter signatories.


DFID Girl Summit Outcomes website and the Population Council website, accessed on August 26 2015.

See video