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Let’s stop reducing the girl-child to a dollar amount


Black Little Girl. Photo credit: Baby and Blog

There is no surprise that investing in girls and youth population will have a catalytic and multiplier effect. However, only a tiny fraction of international aid dollars is spent-and spent effectively-on needs specific to adolescent girls and youth population.

In order to ensure money from various stakeholders are directed toward the development of the girl-child and youth population, there has been an increase in reports, data and statistics outlining the financial return stakeholders will get if they invest their money and resources in the development of the girl-child and youth populations around the world.

However, there is a big problem that no one seems to be addressing.


I cannot tell you how many conferences and closed-door meetings that I have attended that constantly talk about the financial gains of investing in the ‘girl-child.’

Today in order to justify investing X amount of dollars into the development of a girl-child or adolescent youth their must be a spreadsheet or report accompanied that outlines the dividends and ROIs that the government or private sector will receive.

I am sure you have heard this before, “A country’s GDP will rise by X percentage if the government invests X amount of dollars in primary education. Or, “For every dollar spent on family planning, governments can save up to 6 dollars on health, housing, water and other public services.”

Or better yet, “The power of girls’ education on national economic growth is undeniable: a one percent point increase in female education raises the average gross domestic product [GDP) by 0.3 percent points and raises annual GDP growth rates by 0.2 percent points.”

These figures may all be true however why must the achievement of quality of life, political stability, ending violence against women in conflict zones, ending child marriages and honor killings and so one be motivated by prospective financial gain?

There is a difference in saying that it will take X amount of dollars to build adequate primary schools in rural areas than saying the motivation to building primary schools in rural area is because it is based purely on economic gain and not morality, altruism or public service.

Are we saying to the world that if it does not make economic sense then it is not worth investing? The future of young girls and boys transcend economics. We have seen time and time again that money alone cannot buy democracy, equality, political stability and a healthy and literate population.

First it takes good, sensible and effective leaders who can develop and build the necessary infrastructures to provide the proper foundation needed for its citizens.

There needs to be a re-framing of how we address and view investing in the girl-child and youth populations. The language and rhetoric of how we ask for investments for girls and boys also do differ. Investing in the girl-child means increasing the labors force, which ultimately leads to overall economic gains.

Investing in boys means security and reduction in crime. Too many reports and global stakeholders are perpetuating the idea that investing in girls and women is only valuable when there are financial gains attached to it. Sometimes the return on investment may not be economic.

Sometimes it may mean that a child can sleep with a belly full and not go hungry, it may mean a little girl can smile and feel safe from bombings or political strife or it may mean that a population of young people can be happy and have the ability to reach their fullest potential.

Some gains and ROIs are bigger than money. Some investments are priceless.

So, in order to convince banks, multi-lateral institutions, private sectors businesses and other stakeholders to invest their money and resources we have to reduce our most priceless yet valuable asset in our society to a dollar amount? Perhaps, that is what happens in a capitalistic society.

If so, then there may be something fundamentally it what motivates us to give, service and make a difference where required. Our next generation of leaders are worth more than your “return on investment.”

Yetunde A. Odugbesan-Omede, Ph.D., is a Professor of Global Affairs and Political Science. She is a policy advisor and Senior Fellow with the Millennium Policy Institute Commission on Gender Equity. She is also the Founder of Young Woman’s Guide.

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