Three young female students stand outside of classroom holding books, rural India

Girls' and Women's Empowerment

Female students standing outside of classroom in rural India

Adobe Photos

Girls who grow up in households in poor settings, alongside large numbers of siblings, often face barriers to enrolling in school or completing their educations—they are frequently needed at home to help care for younger siblings, and their parents often can’t afford school fees for all of their children. When parents can only afford to send some of their children to school, they typically send the boys.

Additionally, when couples have many children, they are often forced to submit their daughters to early marriage in order to reduce their burden of support, and in some cultures, to receive a crucial dowry payment. Early marriage typically leads to early and frequent childbearing and a life of unpaid subsistence work and childrearing. And that’s only if girls survive young motherhood. Sadly, the leading cause of death worldwide for girls 15-19 is complications from pregnancy and childbirth.

By contrast, when girls receive an education, they tend to marry later, have more opportunities for paid employment, have better health outcomes, and have fewer children over the course of their lives. This virtuous circle continues when their own children are able to stay in school, marry later, participate in the formal employment sector, and plan the number and timing of their pregnancies and births.

Every single year, 12 million girls are married before they reach 18. According to UNICEF, regional levels of child marriage are as follows:

  • West and Central Africa: 37%
  • Eastern and Southern Africa: 31%
  • South Asia: 28%
  • Latin America and Caribbean: 22%
  • Middle East and North Africa: 15%

Keeping girls in school and postponing marriage and childbearing are key to empowering women with the skills and confidence to pursue careers and to exercise control over other major life decisions. When women are empowered, they tend to have lower desired family sizes and the bodily autonomy to achieve their reproductive goals. At the community and country levels, this reduces fertility, which slows population growth rates.