Global Resources

Empowered and safe: economic strengthening for girls in emergencies

Author: C. Caton, J. Chaffin, M. Marsh
Publisher: Women's Refugee Commission
Publication Date: Jan 2014

Even in times of peace and stability, adolescent girls are among the most vulnerable members of society in low-income countries. In times of emergency, this vulnerability is multiplied, with girls facing various rights violations, including high rates of gender-based violence (GBV). Despite this, adolescent girls have, until recently, received limited attention within the humanitarian response sector. Even now, despite widespread recognition of the need for holistic approaches, few programmes focus on the need for economic strengthening (ES) for girls in emergency contexts, or the link between economic insecurity and some forms of GBV.

To address this knowledge gap, UNICEF, the Child Protection in Crisis Network, and the Women’s Refugee Committee have jointly produced this report to outline and reaffirm the need for ES for girls to reduce the risk of GBV, to capture evidence and explore the efficacy of ES interventions in reducing girls’ vulnerability to GBV, and to generate insights to promote good practice and inform the development of tools to improve the protection of girls. Eleven programmes were identified for review via the examination of recent meta-reviews and consultation with practitioners, each of which included ES components in their programming.

The structure of the report is split into two parts. The first section consists of a primer on adolescent girls, GBV, and economic strengthening in emergencies. This primer provides an overview of the GBV-related risks and consequences facing adolescent girls; highlights how failure to address GBV in emergencies misses an important opportunity to save lives; shows the necessity of tackling GBV in order to make progress toward global development goals; and describes the links between livelihoods and GBV. It also discusses the wider benefits of ES for protecting girls, including the weakening of discriminatory gender norms, and boosting local economies.

The second section showcases evidence from the programmes reviewed, showing that ES is an effective strategy for reducing risk of GBV for adolescent girls. The types of ES interventions featured in these programmes include: group and individual savings schemes; financial education; entrepreneurship training; vocational training; support for small-scale income-generating activities (IGA); micro-credit; and cash transfers. The location of programmes included in the review are global, including disaster-hit communities in Haiti and Pakistan; and communities impacted by conflict, such as Kenya, Liberia, and Sierra Leone amongst others. This section also presents key findings from a review of selected programmes that target empowerment or protection of girls through ES, implemented in both emergency and non-emergency conditions.

Ten key recommendations were drawn from the programme review:

  • Girls’ participation throughout the programme cycle should be ensured; this is necessary to maximise programme safety, effectiveness, and impact.
  • Practitioners must evaluate and mitigate potential risk to girls well-being, so as to avoid unintended negative consequences.
  • Use formative research to ensure that interventions are context specific in terms of location, resources, and the nature of the emergency.
  • The context of the girls being helped matters too; interventions should be tailored to girls’ age, development stage, and circumstances.
  • Holistic, integrated, multi-sectoral approaches and interventions are required to build economic and social assets.
  • Identify and remove barriers to girls’ participation, with a particular focus on girls who are especially marginalised.
  • Invest in meaningful and sustained engagement with families and communities from the beginning of every programme. This will enhance girls’ participation and protection, as well as programme success.
  • Use safe spaces (an important entry point for girl-friendly services), peer support, and mentoring to help build resilience and social assets.
  • Market-based livelihood strategies should be used, including careful analysis of labour and product market opportunities, and economic activities that will be acceptable within prevailing gender norms.
  • Interventions aimed at girls’ social and economic empowerment and protection from GBV should be based on a clear theory of change linking problems identified to programme strategies and desired impacts.