Empowering Girls to Learn and Lead

Empowering Girls to Learn and Lead

Publication info


The Power to Lead Alliance (PTLA) aimed to create, strengthen, and scale-up diverse leadership opportunities for girls in six countries [Egypt, Honduras, India, Malawi, Tanzania, and Yemen] through extra-curricular activities, social networks, and civic action.

CARE's work in girls' leadership is based on our gender empowerment framework, which asserts that three interactive dimensions of empowerment – agency, supportive relations, and structures – must be addressed in programming to sustain transformative outcomes for the well-being of girls, boys, and women.

Here are a few of the activities we engaged in:

Availability of diverse extracurricular activities for girls is deemed essential for strong leadership development. Girls must have opportunities outside of school classes to develop their social skills, intellect, and leadership through organized activities.

PTLA provided the setting for girls and boys to practice their leadership skills through a variety of activities, including: sports, health, arts/drama, debate, music, youth council/boards, life skills groups, academic clubs, scouts, awareness campaigns, environment work and classroom support. Of these activities, sports, arts and drama had the highest involvement of both girls and boys in all six countries, although awareness campaigns were also popular with girls.

Girls developed social networks naturally through the group nature of all of these activities, and even became involved in community action through the civic action components of some projects, which in turn improved organizational and decision-making skills.

In many cases, girls had to overcome social stigma and familial or community discouragement from participating in the activities; these barriers were most frequently overcome through youth advocacy, program outreach, and trust building activities between program staff, youth, and families.

“Before this program, I couldn’t do or say anything. Now I can convince my brothers to do something. I attend meetings and fight for my ideas.” 

– A girl from Egypt

Here are some of the results:

In all six countries, girls were highly involved with organizing activities and public events, such as lobbying at community meetings in Tanzania and initiating public discussions about illegal practice of early marriage in India.

Girls and boys involved in PTLA demonstrated an increased capacity for sharing their thoughts and ideas with others (e.g. teachers, classmates, family members, and authorities). Girls also reported higher levels of self-confidence and were more likely to speak in public, confidently answer teachers’ questions, ask questions in class, and volunteer for tasks.

Girls involved in PTLA felt empowered to question others’ views, formulate their own opinions, and make their own decisions about activity participation, all important first steps towards girls realizing their own agency. Girls also discussed personal career aspirations and dreams for the future.

Girls in Yemen reported helping others solve conflicts at home and school and problem-solving with parents without exacerbating the situation. Girls in other countries also reported solving problems through discussion and calming down others who seemed ready to fight, thus avoiding violence or conflict.

Women in PTLA communities were generally supportive of girls’ rights, and overall communities that experienced girls’ empowerment also saw improvements in women’s empowerment. Men’s and boys’ attitudes toward girls’ empowerment were generally improved, but often an improvement in attitude did not yet correspond with a change or improvement in action (e.g. saying that girls have a right to play football, but not allowing them to actually do so).

An overall change in perception of girls’ roles was observed across communities, with specific examples including: opening spaces for girls to play sports in Egypt, greater freedom of movement for girls in villages in India, and more priority given to girls completing homework than household chores in Yemen.

Girls in all five countries had significantly higher scores on Gender Equity Index (GEI) questionnaires compared to girls who were not involved with PTLA; girls in Malawi exhibited the greatest difference, with PTLA girls scoring 78% agreement while non-PTLA girls agreed with only 10% of the items on the scale.

Boys in four of the five countries had significantly higher scores on GEI questionnaires compared to boys not involved with PTLA; boys in Malawi again exhibited the greatest difference, with PTLA boys scoring 77% agreement and non-PTLA boys 9%.

Girls in four of the five countries had significantly higher scores on gendered social norms scales compared to girls not involved with PTLA; girls in India exhibited the greatest difference, with PTLA girls scoring 46% agreement and non-PTLA girls only 12%, while PTLA girls in Tanzania, Honduras, and Malawi all agreed with more than 65% of items on the scale.

Boys in four of the five countries had significantly higher scores on gendered social norms scales compared to boys not involved with PTLA; PTLA boys in Tanzania, Honduras, and Malawi all agreed with more than 65% of items on the scale.

Some country-specific achievements include:

In Egypt, girls’ participation in the civic arena appears to have improved; some girls even competed for student union president and vice president. Teachers’ and mentors’ skills and knowledge also improved through program implementation, and community development associations (CDA) have developed stronger links with schools through support of sports activities.

In Honduras, children began to sell paintings, embroidery, and bakery products in order to support other children and help them to learn those skills, demonstrating important decision-making skills and initiative in improving living conditions and social environment. 10-14 year-old girls also participated in forums with leaders at the municipal level, where they shared their desire to improve educational, health, and family financial situations.

In India, staff observed that interactions between boys and girls began to occur more frequently just one year into the program. Younger boys became interested in learning stitching, rolling chapattis, and helping with household chores, which are traditionally female activities and responsibilities, and some even participated in stitching competitions and discussed their intent to disrupt the social norms associated with these activities. It is important to note that most of these boys were young, making it easier for them to interact with girls and not be ridiculed. This same behavior was not noted with the older boys, suggesting that if boys learn at a young age to cross the gender barriers, this could set a precedent for more enduring change in their attitudes toward girls.

In Tanzania, girls began applying leadership skills in their families in order to influence decisions by encouraging younger siblings to attend school and talked to parents about joining the village savings and loan program in order to get money for school fees. Girls also appeared to be influencing others in village forums and in ward development committees. They negotiated for representation on these committees, and have used that opportunity to request that schools provide official time for students to participate in sports activities.

In Yemen, boys have become more accepting of their sisters attending school, and have even reported doing homework together. Community attitudes also appear to be changing, as more girls are participating in extracurricular activities than ever before.

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