Adolescent girls are uniquely vulnerable: They’re no longer children, but they aren’t yet adults either. Between aid programs for “children” or “women,” adolescent girls fall through the cracks. But they still have to bear the full weight of the challenges that face both groups.
Girls hold the potential to create a ripple effect of positive communal change. That’s why our work at Plan International USA is focused on adolescent girls’ unique needs and experiences. And that’s what makes your partnership with us different.
A look into our work with girls
Off a shadowy dirt road in Zimbabwe, a crowded beerhall echoes with slurred conversations and yells. It’s an unsettling white noise of men. Just behind the bar is an old shed — it’s on its last legs, but it’s not abandoned.
Inside the shed, you can hear the soft breathing of adolescent girls, sleeping in their makeshift dormitory.
This was how girls in the Mwenezi district in Zimbabwe were staying enrolled in school. They had to resort to “bush boarding,” a practice of living in places that are not meant for living, because their homes are too far away from school. They walked nine miles — three hours — each way to get to school.
Several cases of sexual harassment had been reported in the district where the girls were walking. And their safety was further severely compromised while living in the shed.
“Because we stay near a beer hall, sometimes in the evening, we get knocks on the door by men looking for girls to sleep with,” one of the girls said. “It’s scary.”
So, when Plan’s experienced programming staff discovered what was happening in Mwenezi, we stepped in with a girls’ rights program called The Graduation project. From the very start, the girls’ input guided the design of the program. We knew that the girls needed a formal dormitory, with beds, meals and private bathrooms. But those essentials were the least of their worries.
In one of the workshops, the girls designed a blueprint of their dream dormitory. They told us that they wanted to be protected with the highest security possible — their drawing included a dorm barricaded by a brick wall, barbed wire fencing and female security guards.
Support from people like you is helping build the dorm and bring the girls’ dreams to life. When it is safe for the girls to return to school and be protected from COVID-19, they won’t ever have to go back to the shed. They’ll have the protection and resources they need to reach their full potential.
Our approach of asking the girls to guide this work helped us challenge assumptions we had going into Mwenezi. For example: Our staff assumed that the girls provided emotional support to each other, but the reality was that the girls kept to themselves because they didn’t want to burden each other with their worries. Learning from the girls is helping to inform the program and address the root causes of their challenges, such as transportation to school, receiving a quality education and staying protected. And this girl-led strategy is how we approach all of our work.
The best way to identify the challenges that girls and young women face is to ask the experts: the girls themselves. What do we call this girl-led model? GirlEngage.
The GirlEngage approach
Plan’s evidence indicates that girls are best placed to drive program content — to be co-creators with us. GirlEngage shifts the role of girls from passive beneficiaries to active participants, and makes it possible for them to amplify their voices in all stages of the project cycle, from setting goals to program evaluation. By engaging girls and young women as partners and co-designers, we co-create innovative, sustainable solutions that reflect their priorities, needs and vision.