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World Economic Forum Session to Discuss Ways of Helping Adolescent Girls

Educate girls, develop the economy -- that’s one of the messages delegates to the World Economic Forum will hear at their annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland (Jan.23-27). It’s based on a report by the Washington-based Center for Global Development, called “Girls Count – An Action and Investment Agenda.”

The paper shows the link between the improvement of social and educational conditions for girls and national development. The study asks leaders of business, government and civil society to get involved.

Ruth Levine, a vice president of the center, explains that educated girls tend to enter the labor force and have smaller families. The extra money can be used to increase savings, which in turn can be used as capital to help businesses develop. It’s a trend she refers to as the “demographic dividend.”

Levine says “We’ve seen it happening in a number of countries around the world, “It’s on the horizon for some in the developing world who have achieved lowered fertility rates through better conditions for girls and young women. So there is a clear link between the experience of girls, their health and education, and what future societies will look like.”

What can business leaders do? Levine says they can lobby government to support reproductive health, education and other services for young girls and other marginalized groups. They can also introduce innovative programs like on-site savings programs for young women workers, and support micro-finance projects that target young women. Such projects could provide small loans on favorable terms to young women who are a key part of the informal economy.

She says leaders can also ensure that their businesses enforce fair labor practices.

“In some of the light manufacturing industries,” she says, “there is clear bias towards unmarried women who are not pregnant, and they (women) are fired in some firms if they are married. This is in opposition to what is fair and good for young women. So one emphasis for the corporate sector is to engage in fair labor practices among their own workers.”

Levine says there has been progress in educating girls in the developing world, and there is a smaller difference now between the number of boys and girls in primary school. But she says the number for both is still low, as is the level of educational standards.

And, unlike boys, girls often do not go on to secondary school. Instead, they marry early, have children and get low paying jobs with little opportunity to get ahead. However, she says the total number of children enrolled remains low, as do standards.