Reducing Adolescent Girls' Vulnerability to Sexual Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa

Population Briefs, April 2015 | Go to article overview

Reducing Adolescent Girls' Vulnerability to Sexual Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa


A recent Population Council study in Uganda has demonstrated that addressing girls' financial needs--such as giving them access to savings accounts--without simultaneously addressing their social and health needs could increase their chances of experiencing sexual harassment.

Adolescent girls living in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to many core community resources, including banks, health clinics, and safe places to meet with friends. They also face high rates of gender-based violence, are at greater risk for unsafe sex that can lead to unwanted pregnancies and HIV infection, and have limited economic resources and income-generating opportunities. Evidence suggests that equipping the most marginalized girls and young women with basic assets--skills, knowledge, and resources--will help them become productive, safe, and successful adults.

Assets are skills, resources, or knowledge that empower girls, reduce their vulnerability to bad outcomes, and give them new opportunities. The Population Council's asset-building framework posits that adolescent girls need a combination of social, health, cognitive, and economic assets in order to make a safe and healthy transition from childhood to adulthood. Weak social assets--including a lack of friends, mentors, and self-esteem--and lack of economic independence can be significant obstacles to girls taking control of their lives, especially decisions regarding their sexual health and relationships.

"With our study, we were able to dig a bit deeper," said Karen Austrian, Population Council researcher and lead investigator on the study. "What happens when girls are given access only to a savings account without access to other assets that may have a protective effect?"

The Intervention

Between 2009 and 2010, researchers implemented a four-component intervention that involved:

* meetings with other girls in a safe, public location,

* reproductive health information,

* financial education, and

* savings accounts.

More than 1,000 adolescent girls aged 10-19 living in low income areas of Kampala, Uganda, participated in the study.

To enter the program, girls were offered savings accounts at two local banks. Girls typically have little money, so banks do not serve them. However, these banks--Finance Trust Bank and FINCA-Uganda--partnered with the Council to make it possible for girls to save. The banks also offered quarterly meetings to the girls' parents, where they provided them with information about money management and the banks' other services. When girls signed up for bank accounts, they were invited to join weekly girl-group meetings.

In the weekly girl-group meetings 15 to 25 girls met with a mentor for short training sessions and a chance to socialize, helping them to build a safety net of trusted relationships. The reproductive health training offered at the meetings included 30 sessions on topics ranging from puberty and family planning, to drug abuse, peer pressure and gender-based violence. …

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