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Promoting Economic Advancement as a Pathway to Preventing HIV and Violence against Adolescent Girls and Young Women

Published 03/08/2024 by Global Communities

Women working in Kenya

By Betty Adera

This month, as we observe International Women’s Day 2024, it is imperative to reflect on the multifaceted challenges that adolescent girls and young women (AGYW), aged 15 to 24, face. Under this year’s theme, Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress, we must consider how the intertwined issues of HIV/AIDS and violence halt their advancement and what tactics can be used to address these challenges.

Globally, 46% of all new HIV infections were found in women and girls. In 2022, it was estimated that 1.9 million AGYW were living with HIV, compared to 1.2 million adolescent boys and young men. Economic stressors, combined with gender and generational disparities at the household level (e.g., care burden, school dropout, early and forced marriage, social isolation, violence and transactional sex) contribute to higher infection rates in AGYW.

There exists a potent yet often overlooked solution to these challenges: the power of economic capacity strengthening. By promoting AGYW’s economic empowerment, we can not only help enhance their financial independence, but also fortify their resilience against HIV/AIDS and violence. Economic empowerment encompasses a range of interventions aimed at enhancing individuals’ economic opportunities, from providing skills training to facilitating access to financial resources. For young women, economic empowerment translates into increased control over their lives, greater decision-making power and improved access to essential services. With 60% of Africa’s total population under the age of 25, investing in adolescent girls is critical to reducing their vulnerability to HIV, violence and intergenerational poverty.

Women involved in economic empowerment programming.

To address economic stressors and gender disparities that contribute to higher rates of violence and HIV/AIDS, Global Communities has partnered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to implement several programs under the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). These programs are always rooted in close partnerships with local governments, faith-based organizations, the private sector and local communities. While Global Communities is currently implementing economic strengthening interventions in Kenya, over the years, we have implemented programming in Botswana and Rwanda.

Global Communities’ group-based economic empowerment programs provide AGYW with evidence-based life and business knowledge in such areas as business planning, management, communication and negotiation skills. This knowledge leads to increased self-esteem, autonomy and decision-making. Additionally, these programs provide access to financial products and resources, such as credit, savings, employment and apprenticeships, which build sustainable social and economic assets. These assets increase socio-economic security, enhance long-term planning and visioning for the future while reducing isolation through participation in group-based activities. To date, our current and previous economic empowerment programming in Botswana, Rwanda and Kenya has cumulatively reached more than 49,000 clients.

Economic empowerment serves as a powerful deterrent against gender-based violence. Economic dependence often traps women in abusive relationships, making it difficult for them to leave or seek help. By gaining financial autonomy, AGYW can more easily leave abusive situations and access support services, which can lower their susceptibility to HIV. Moreover, these programs promote gender equality, rights awareness and challenge societal norms that perpetuate violence, keep girls out of school and lead to unsafe or transactional sex.

AGYW’s economic advancement is not just about enhancing their financial status; it’s about fostering resilience, dignity and agency. By investing in their economic capacity, we can break the vicious cycle of poverty, HIV/AIDS and violence, paving the way for a brighter, more equitable future for generations to come. This International Women’s Day, Global Communities stands in solidarity with AGYW everywhere and champions their right to economic empowerment as a fundamental step towards realizing gender equality and social justice. We echo the rallying call to governments, donors, civil society organizations and all stakeholders to prioritize investments in programs that promote financial inclusion, skills development and entrepreneurship among AGYW.