Celebrating 10 Years of Literacy Boost – What Have We Learned So Far?

Written by Pamela Mendoza and Sonja Horne

Childhood is unique experience across the world, but all children deserve the chance to access high quality education, especially around literacy. But how best to create a suite of tools that can be adapted to the experience of children across the world? In 2009, Save the Children set out to answer this questions by developing our evidence-based non-profit Literacy Boost approach to address cumulative evidence of gaps in basic reading instruction,  and its flexible design in the components allows for adaptation to better guide schools, teachers, parents, and communities on literacy practices. Now, a decade on we want to take the opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned from implementing Literacy Boost over the last 10 years and investigate Literacy Boost’s contributions to the children in more than 27 countries currently using and adapting Literacy Boost. This blog post is just an introduction, the full report of the first decade of Literacy Boost is available for download at our Resource Centre.

What is Literacy Boost?
Literacy Boost is an adaptive approach designed using evidence gathered from across countries Save the Children works. It aims to improve literacy learning outcomes, and increase reading skills of children, especially those who may struggle to learn to read, in a growing number of program sites across the globe.[i]

Literacy Boost focuses on four areas:

  1. Reading Assessment: Identify gaps and measure learning improvements in the core reading skills
  2. Training teachers: Teachers are trained on core reading skills and writing to incorporate skill-building into their regularly scheduled curriculum
  3. Community action: Quality teaching and learning environments inside and outside of schools to help children improve their reading skills
  4. Enhancing the literacy environment: Provide appropriate reading materials to practice and enjoy reading

What have we learned?
Literacy Boost improves student’s learning skills, especially for girls and children from weaker home learning environments.

Literacy Boost focuses on life-wide learning that is, children’s engagement in enjoyable, cognitively demanding literacy-related activities both inside and outside the home (Friedlander, Dowd, Borisova, & Guajardo, 2012). Literacy Boost significantly improved learning outcomes in 13 out of 17 sites included in this analysis. Literacy Boost students learned more on average than students that did not receive the intervention. Overall, there has been a positive shift from non-readers to readers with comprehension, particularly for children within Literacy Boost schools (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Reading Comprehension Tiers Aggregating Data from 17 Samples


Notes: Non-Reader: Students who cannot read 5 words correctly in 30 seconds. Beginning Reader: Students who can read 5 or more words correctly in 30 seconds but can only answer 75% or less of comprehension questions correctly. Reader with Comprehension: Students who can read 5 or more words correctly in 30 seconds and who can answer more than 75% of comprehension questions correctly.

Notes: Non-Reader: Students who cannot read 5 words correctly in 30 seconds. Beginning Reader: Students who can read 5 or more words correctly in 30 seconds but can only answer 75% or less of comprehension questions correctly. Reader with Comprehension: Students who can read 5 or more words correctly in 30 seconds and who can answer more than 75% of comprehension questions correctly

In terms of equity, Literacy Boost is helping girls learn more letters, read more passages and understand their meaning. In 12 country samples, Literacy Boost girls gained significantly more in foundational and advanced literacy skills than the girls that did not receive the program. For home learning environment (HLE), in 12 studies we found that Literacy Boost students that had low interactions at home gained significantly more in at least one literacy skill compared to their peers that did not receive the program. 

Adaptability and focus on educators and families helps children improve their reading in a variety of contexts

On Literacy Boost successes, reflections from the different country office (CO) sites are dominated by improved teaching in classrooms and improved learning by students. CO colleagues report that teachers now know reading skills and create materials to promote them. At the student level, CO colleagues note the increase in pass rates, in the percentage of children who can identify letters and words, their improvement in fluency and reading with comprehension, greater participation in class, and enthusiasm for reading engagement in learning both inside and outside schools among others. Finally, a core set of respondents note successes in both garnering ministry support and using different mechanisms to achieve greater scale with Literacy Boost within their communities.

On gender and disability, only nine Literacy Boost sites responding to the survey have elements that are specifically addressed to the learning needs of boys and girls. For instance, in Cote d’Ivoire, Niger, and the Philippines have prioritized developing or selecting gender-sensitive books. Twelve of the country teams report having design aspects of their Literacy Boost programming that are specifically targeted to ensure inclusion for children with disabilities. For example, in Malawi, Guatemala, Niger, and Papua New Guinea the team implements the SNAP (Student Needs Action Pack) alongside Literacy Boost to equip teachers with skills to identify and support learners with diverse learning needs.

Half of the respondents report that in their site the children speak the language of instruction (LoI) at home, while the other half offer evidence of a complicated linguistic setting for learning. Overall, the respondents are supporting children who speak 114 different languages at home across these 27 sites. While in some cases the use of a variety of local languages to promote learning is formally promoted, in many more it is used—likely as it is feasible when teachers speak the children’s home languages.

Literacy Boost influenced the development of a National Reading Strategy which has resulted into the implementation of National Reading Program through the Ministry of Education,” Malawi staff

Conclusions
Within the last decade that Save the Children has been implementing Literacy Boost, many successes have been captured, including the overall positive impact of the program, as well as equity improvements for participant children and a significant uptick in the number of implementing sites. Given its overall success, it is not a surprise that the program was one of the first programs endorsed by Save the Children as a common approach in 2016. As the program moves forward and is implemented in more sites, it is important to take into account the lessons learned and to set a focus on sustainability for all of Literacy Boost’s core goals, so that the improvements made towards children’s literacy will benefit not only the children currently partaking in the program but all children who come after them.

Despite the substantial progress that has been made towards increasing education access over the last decades, 670 million of children and youth lack basic mathematics and literacy skills[ii]. The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the learning crisis and negatively impacting more than 1.6 billion of children and youth. While the majority of countries are making huge efforts at putting in place remote learning strategies, a recent survey from Save the Children shows that students are having access to fewer distant options and lacking the necessary support given that caregivers are facing challenges accessing essential services and goods.[iii] Furthermore, recent evidence suggests that school closures across contexts have led to significant learning losses in the past months.[iv] The dire effects on learning due to the current COVID-19 pandemic further highlight the need for evidence-based, context-appropriate learning approaches that develop and support quality learning for children in schools and communities. Literacy Boost has been one approach that has been proven to improve learning outcomes for some of the most marginalized children across the globe.


[i] https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/library/literacy-boost-common-approaches

[ii] https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/education/

[iii] https://www.savethechildren.org/content/dam/usa/reports/advocacy/global-childhood-report-2020.pdf

[iv] https://www.cgdev.org/sites/default/files/practical-lessons-phone-based-assessments-learning-revised-jul2020.pdf

Realizing the Global Ceasefire on Violence Against Girls – A first look at the new UN Global Gender Response Tracker

Written by Gabrielle Szabo, Senior Policy and Advocacy Adviser on Gender Equality

On April 6, 2020, the UN Secretary General called for a global ceasefire on all forms of violence in response to what he called a “horrifying surge in violence against women and girls in the home”. More than 140 governments responded to the call. Yesterday, just short of the six-month anniversary of the Secretary-General’s announcement, the UN answered civil society calls for accountability by launching its COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker. This is a critical step forward, providing precious new data at a time when policy-makers, advocates and researchers are struggling to keep up with rapidly changing circumstances.

What can the tracker tell us?
The tracker currently looks at 2,500 policy measures enacted by governments in 206 countries and territories and will be continually updated. It is a remarkable example of the value of collaboration between governments and UN agencies, and an important step in support of accountability to women and girls. The tracker examines the introduction of ‘gender-sensitive’ policy measures and responses to violence against women and girls, efforts to promote their economic security and address unpaid care burdens (like childcare and chores).

Global analysis shows us that low and high-income countries all over the world are implementing gender-related measures in response to COVID-19:

  • Almost 80% (164) of countries and territories surveyed had introduced measures considered gender-sensitive in response to COVID-19 – a total of 992 measures.
  • More than 70% (704) of those measures were intended to address violence compared to just 17% (177) aimed at economic and social security and 11% (111) aimed at addressing unpaid care work.
  • Two-thirds (63%) of measures to address violence concerned services, including helplines and shelters, and the next most common measure was awareness-raising (18%).
  • Poor and fragile countries and territories are the least likely to have introduced both measures to address violence and gender-sensitive measures in general.

And what about girls?
We know that girls face high-levels of gender-based violence, including age-specific violence like child marriage. But adolescent girls in particular, too often fall through the gaps between child protection and gender-based violence services. Girls are also more likely to shoulder excessive burdens of unpaid work, particularly in times of crisis. So, what does the tracker tell us about how governments are addressing girls’ needs?

The tracker is not age-disaggregated but back-of-the-envelope analysis by Save the Children shows that girls are specifically referenced or addressed by just 16% (33) of the 206 countries/territories analyzed – on quick inspection, many of these measures have girl-specific elements and cannot simply be accounted for by the tendency to refer to “women and girls” collectively.[1]Just three of these 50 measures (in Chile, Mexico and Uganda) relate to social protection, all of the others address violence.

What sorts of measures are governments taking?
Measures range from helplines and shelters to women only police emergency response teams (Jordan), awareness-raising activities, panic buttons on smart phones (Guatemala), virtual court hearings (Barbados) and safe spaces (Afghanistan, Bolivia), to additional leave for working mothers (Mexico), bicycles for gender-based violence service providers (Malawi), issuing of alerts for missing women, girls and boys (Guatemala), support to access menstrual hygiene products (South Africa), and inclusion of women’s organizations in government briefings (Uruguay).

Do any countries stand out?
Any number of countries could be identified as standouts, but some exciting examples include:

  • Egypt, which has the highest number of girl-specific measures (4) of any country/territory including new remote referral hotlines, continuation of family court hearings despite suspension of other court hearings and measures to continue and adapt efforts to end harmful practices, specifically female genital mutilation (FGM) through the pandemic.
  • Uganda, one of just three countries to include girls’ empowerment programming for economic and social protection through ‘Girls Empowering Girls’, an urban cash transfer and mentoring programme for adolescent girls that has adapted to allow remote enrolment, delivery and mentoring.
  • Bangladesh, Cambodia and Kenya, all of which have introduced measures to reduce harmful practices including child marriage and FGM that exclusively or primarily affect girls and are projected to increase as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – despite being a fragile state, DRC is one of just 8% (48) of countries analysed to make violence against women and girls an integral part of their national and local COVID-19 response plans.

What’s next?
With this growing wealth of information at our fingertips, governments must take the opportunity to learn from each other and adapt and improve responses to COVID-19. And advocates must make use of this new accountability tool. Closer examination will be required to understand the extent to which girls’ age-specific needs are being responded to, including in relation to their rights to education and sexual and reproductive health.

The next iteration of the tracker will include a women’s leadership measure. This is an exciting development and will be a real test of governments’ commitment to girls’ right to participate. A global ceasefire on violence against girls is still far from a reality. As we celebrate International Day of the Girl and work toward #GenerationEquality, we must use this new tool to ensure that girls voices are at the centre of decision-making processes, through COVID-19 and as we work together to build back safer.

Save the Children will continue to monitor content from the Global Gender Response Tracker as part of our own live-tracker looking at the impact of COVID-19 on children.


[1] These percentages are based on searches for the term ‘girls’, ‘child marriage’ and ‘FGM’ and ‘female genital mutilation’. Inclusion of the search term ‘child’ would have significantly increased the number of countries and measures considered to be specifically addressing girls and a closer analysis would be needed to determine whether these measures specifically addressed the needs of girl children.

COVID-19: Bringing the “Shadow Pandemic” to Light

Written by Janti Soeripto, President and CEO, Save the Children

While the world is paying rapt attention to the daily rise and fall of the numbers of cases of COVID-19 around the world, there’s another part of this crisis that is not getting the action that it needs: gender-based violence.

UN Women is calling it a shadow pandemic, with the risk of gender-based violence to girls and women surging higher as COVID-19 has forced them to stay in their homes – some trapped with their abusers and isolated from support – and put both economic and psychological stress on families. Girls around the world are living in grave risk of violence. And they need our support right now, especially girls living in humanitarian settings.

Reports just last week by humanitarian responders confirmed that even with the limited quantitative data available, there is cause for extreme concern in humanitarian settings. The Global Protection Cluster, which coordinates the UN’s humanitarian response on gender-based violence and child protection, reported increased rates of gender-based violence related to COVID-19 in 90% of humanitarian field sites where they are responding; over 60% report it having a severe impact on affected populations. 

We know that adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable because of the intersection of their age and gender. For example, during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, school closures led to increases in sexual violence experienced by girls. This contributed to a 65% increase in adolescent pregnancy in some districts in the country; and because they were pregnant, those girls were banned from returning to schools when the outbreak ended due to a policy that has since been changed, compounding the impact this violence had on their lives.

Guidance from the UN and gender-based violence practitioners have long called for humanitarian actors to assume that gender-based violence is happening, regardless of whether data on incidence or prevalence is available. That’s both because collecting the data can further endanger women and girls who are experiencing violence, and because even in the best of circumstances, violence is under-reported due to the enduring stigma.

It’s therefore vital that we learn from past experiences – such as the Ebola outbreak — and apply that learning to our current crisis.  We are long past the time where we can pretend we are unaware of the risks of gender-based violence. We have the knowledge and the tools to respond.  We urge the humanitarian community to harness the will to act now to protect a generation of girls from gender-based violence:

  1. Create a specific objective on gender-based violence prevention and response in the final update of the global humanitarian response plan for COVID-19 and mandate the collection, analysis and use of sex, age, and diversity-disaggregated data across all assessments and interventions.

We’re extremely concerned that despite experience and the evidence we do have, gender-based violence is still glossed over in a litany of risks in the global COVID-19 humanitarian response plan. But it’s not too late.

The UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) holds the pen on the global plan to address the impacts of COVID-19 in humanitarian settings. They are releasing a final update to the plan next week and have the opportunity to act quickly and make a life-saving difference for girls at risk.

There is broad based support across the global community to do just this, demonstrated by this letter[LA1] endorsed by 576 international and local NGOs, governments, partnerships, institutions and UN agencies.

  • Increase funding for gender-based violence prevention and response in humanitarian contexts proportionate with the extreme need.

Gender-based violence remains grossly underfunded within humanitarian crises, despite evidence that indicates it’s a widespread occurrence. In fact, it only accounts for 0.58% of the current budget for the global response plan for addressing COVID-19 in humanitarian settings — and even that paltry sum has yet to be funded. Donors must back up their rhetoric with funding commitments and programs tailored to address the needs of adolescent girls at risk in humanitarian settings.  This includes not only targeted programs to address gender-based violence, but also integrating it into other programs, such as training frontline health workers so that they can identify and respond to gender-based violence.

  • Prioritize the safe and meaningful participation and leadership of girls and women on the frontline of this crisis in humanitarian decision-making and COVID-19 response efforts.

Recent research from CARE International has shown that despite commitments by the UN and government actors – women’s rights organizations at the local level are still not being meaningfully included in humanitarian decision-making during the COVID-19 response. In addition, local women’s rights actors, essential to the COVID-19 response are not receiving the funding support they need.  Women and girls must be included in decision-making at all levels and receive the funding they need to provide critical gender-based violence prevention and response services. 

Beyond the direct health impacts, COVID-19 is risking decades of progress on gender equality and girls’ rights with devastating consequences for years to come. This is a “shadow pandemic,” that must be brought into the spotlight. Enough is enough.


Including Children with Disabilities During COVID-19

Written by Alexander Mentkowski

During global pandemics, the role of government is vital in protecting its citizens. Unfortunately, not all citizens are always included in government responses to emergencies, and the COVID-19 crisis is another example of this. One group of citizens that is often excluded are people/children with disabilities (P/CWDs).

In China, a teenager named Yan Cheng, with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder which makes it difficult for a person to move and maintain their balance, suffered from neglect due in part to his disability. Yan Cheng stayed behind in his village of Wuhan while his father and brother left for Lunar New Year’s celebrations. His father contracted COVID-19 shortly after.

The father informed a Wuhan charity for disabled people about his son and told them that Yan needs to be fed and assisted with changing his clothes daily. Unfortunately, Yan was only fed twice between January 24th to January 28th and died on January 29th.  The exact cause of Yan Cheng’s death has not been determined, but this is just one example of the barriers that P/CWDs face during a global health crisis.

The Disability Community

The World Bank and World Health Organization (WHO) state that P/CWDs account for 15% of the world’s population and 80% of them live in developing countries.  World Health Survey data from 51 countries revealed that people with disabilities were more than twice as likely to report finding health care provider skills inadequate to meet their needs, four times more likely to be treated badly and nearly three times more likely to be denied needed health care.

This research also finds that 100 million children have a disability and UNICEF’ has emphasized the specific considerations needed for children with disabilities. For example, girls and boys with disabilities may be at risk of exclusion from education if remote/distance learning programs are not accessible or they do not have assistive devices to allow participation and accommodate learning needs.

The importance of having an inclusive response to coronavirus towards C/PWDs is supported by Article 11 of the United Nation’s Convention of Rights for People with Disabilities (CRPD). Article 11  establishes that states will ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in the national response to humanitarian emergencies. In addition to the CRPD, Article 2 of UN Convention of Rights of the Child, states that signatory countries respect that children within their jurisdiction, including those with a disability, do not suffer discrimination. It also calls for measures to ensure protection against negative attitudes, isolation, and stigmatization that may arise in the midst of a crisis such as the coronavirus.

Including Children with Disabilities During COVID-19

A briefing published by UNICEF on the considerations for PWDs includes recommendations that have been written by many disability-centered organizations such as the European Disability Forum and the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD). Recommendations from the European Disability Forum include:

  • Disabled People Organizations (DPOs) are the best placed to advise authorities on the specific requirements and most appropriate solutions on policies providing accessible and inclusive services. Similarly, children with disabilities are best placed to speak to their specific barriers, and should be proactively consulted.
  • All COVID-19 containment and mitigation activities must be planned and implemented with the active participation of persons with disabilities and DPOs. Children should not be left out of this process, child-friendly information and mechanisms should be included as part of these activities.
  • Involving women and girls with disabilities in all stages of responses and decision-making is critical. Girls with disabilities are especially vulnerable and hard to reach, so special efforts must be made to insure they are not left behind.

The World Federation of the Deaf focuses on how to engage with the deaf community, but their recommendations can be also incorporated for the general disability community:

  • National governments should work with deaf people through their representative organization – the national associations of the deaf – to ensure the provision of adequate information and safeguarding access to health and education services.
  • National governments, in partnership with the national associations of the deaf, must implement accessible emergency services for deaf children who are victim of physical, psychological and sexual abuse. This service must be accessible, ideally via direct communication, but also through SMS texting and via remote interpreting through Video Relay Services.
  • Governments at all levels, must undertake all possible measures to ensure deaf children and youth are protected from physical, psychological and sexual abuse and violence during the confinement period.

Recommendations from UNICEF’s Considerations for Children and Adults with Disabilities include:

  • Considering information channels that will be accessed by persons with disabilities. For example, as many children with disabilities are out of school, any information campaigns delivered through schools may not reach children with disabilities.
  • Provide support to education actors to ensure that distance learning platforms are safe and accessible to children with disabilities; teachers are trained on supporting children with disabilities remotely; and that any special education programs are included in measures to ensure continuity of education.
  • Women and girls with disabilities who experience disruption of essential services, restricted movements and have primary responsibility for caring for their families are at increased risk of gender-based violence (GBV). Ensure that any programs to prevent and respond to GBV are inclusive of women and girls with disabilities (e.g. ensuring that information and reporting channels are available in multiple and accessible formats).

For governments to uphold protections for P/CWDs during COVID-19 they should familiarize themselves and follow the recommendations provided by the disability centered organizations. The aim of these recommendations is to reduce the bad practices that have occurred since the beginning of the pandemic. These recommendations are made in the spirit of the disability rights movement saying, “nothing about us without us.”

Using Data to Advocate for Children: How Save the Children’s Open-Access Assessment Tool Helped Expand Pre-School in Rwanda

Written by Caroline Dusabe, Lauren Pisani and Frannie Noble

Access to quality preschool, also known as early childhood education (ECE), provides children with strong foundations for future academic achievement and learning. There is evidence of the vital importance of the early childhood years from countries all over the world, but the vast majority comes from high-income countries like the United States. The lack of local research and evidence often leaves governments in low- and middle-income countries, like Rwanda, wondering whether these ECE programs will have the same effects in their countries, and how to invest in ECE appropriately.

The number of national policies supporting ECE across low and middle income countries has been increasing, due in large part to Sustainable Development Goal 4.2, which calls for all boys and girls to have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education. However, investment and changes in practice have been slower to follow. This is particularly true in Sub-Saharan Africa. There, though ECE enrollment rates are starting to rise, less than half of children have access to these services and the quality of existing programs is generally poor.

Source: World Development Indicators, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/se.pre.enrr

What We Did

Faced with this challenge in Rwanda, Save the Children used a data-driven approach to strategically advocate for greater investment in ECE. Our work highlighted local evidence about the positive impact of ECE on children’s learning and development. First, we identified key education advocates and decision makers at different levels of the Rwandan government, and determined opportunities for affecting change at those levels. Then, we designed evaluations of different ECE approaches to test the effectiveness of these initiatives for improving children’s development. Most importantly, we worked with local experts and staff to zero in on specific strengths and weaknesses existing in the Rwandan system and identify potential solutions for improving ECE quality for all children in the country.

What We Used

A critical tool in this research process was the International Development and Early Learning Assessment (IDELA). IDELA is an open-access, holistic assessment tool that measures literacy, numeracy, social-emotional and motor development for 3 – 6 year old children. IDELA was developed by Save the Children and is now used by 100+ partners around the world, free of cost. Using IDELA as the key outcome across multiple studies allowed us to easily compare the results of different trials to one another.


Lessons learned were shared with other NGO partners in the country through the Rwanda Education NGOs Coordination Platform (RENCP), and were used to develop targeted advocacy messages. The RENCP group created policy briefs, position papers, and made presentations for the key ECD actors identified at the beginning of the project.

As a result of the research and targeted advocacy of Save the Children and other NGOs, the Ministry of Education in Rwanda committed to building preschool classrooms in all communities, including purchasing storybooks and other age-appropriate toys for all classrooms. The Ministry of Education of Rwanda also agreed to create a national preprimary teacher training system, and budgeted for preprimary teacher salaries for the first time. Previously, parents were responsible for paying volunteer teachers’ incentives, which meant that often teachers were not paid consistently and that many of the poorest families did not send their children to school. Providing teacher salaries was a critical step toward ensuring preschool teacher motivation and retention, and enabled even the poorest children to access preschool for the first time.

What IDELA Helped Us Learn about ECE in Rwanda

Without IDELA we would not have been able to demonstrate the strong connections between the quality of children’s classroom and home environments and their learning outcomes. IDELA allowed us to share rigorous, relevant information with the Ministry of Education, local NGO partners, and communities. A few of the most important lessons learned were:

  • High quality learning environments, at home or in a school setting, are strongly correlated with improvements in school readiness
  • Quality learning environments for Rwandan children require a play-based curriculum that leverages age-appropriate learning and teaching materials
  • Professionalization of ECE teachers and ongoing teacher training is critical for maintaining quality
  • Parenting education on simple strategies and activities for promoting learning at home is effective in improving children’s school readiness beyond the school walls, especially for those who don’t have access to pre-schools yet.

Now What?

Many low- and middle-income countries are also in the early stages of adopting preprimary education into their basic education systems. The stage and scope of ECE policies in different countries varies, but the access and quality challenges seen in Rwanda are common. By leveraging free tools like IDELA, Save the Children and our partners can determine how to address these challenges in a very resource-efficient way. As we saw in Rwanda, using this data to create focused advocacy and harmonized messages while working with a network of like-minded organizations can be highly effective. Deliberately using locally generated evidence is also critical when sharing our work with policy makers. These examples and experiences help them connect the dots on the benefits children and families stand to gain from their policies. Using data-driven approaches, as we did in with IDELA in Rwanda, ensures that we understand and can advocate for the most effective approaches for children.

More information about this project is available here.

#GenerationEquality Starts in Childhood!

Photo credit: Save the Children

The year 2020 is a crucial opportunity to look back at international commitments to achieve girls’ rights, assess our progress and take concrete, forward-looking action. For girls, this has never been so urgent.

All over the world, too many girls remain in danger of being left behind on global progress, risking their futures, as well as the prospects of sustainable development, global peace and the achievement of girls’ universal human rights. However, today, girls risk falling through the gaps of a new global process intended to accelerate progress for gender equality over the critical next five years.

With this letter – 37 leading child rights and women’s rights organizations, including Save the Children, call for the Generation Equality Leads to ensure that girls’ rights are addressed through the Beijing +25 process with a standalone action coalition.

#GenerationEquality starts in childhood!

The International Community Must Ensure That No Girl Is Left Behind

Written by Carolyn Miles, Advisor, Gender Equality and Girls’ Empowerment at Save the Children

The world’s girls deserve an action coalition that is focused holistically on their lives and includes their participation. #GenerationEquality starts in childhood. Let’s work together with girls to ensure that no girl is left behind!

The year 2020 is a crucial opportunity to look back at international commitments to achieve girls’ rights, assess our progress and take concrete, forward-looking action. For girls, this has never been so urgent. All over the world, too many girls remain in danger of being left behind on global progress, risking their futures, as well as the prospects of sustainable development, global peace and the achievement of girls’ universal human rights. However, today, girls risk falling through the gaps of a new global process intended to accelerate progress for gender equality over the critical next five years.

Today, UN Women released its plans to rally the international community to accelerate progress for gender equality over the next five years by creating a set of “action coalitions” to drive concrete progress on gender equality.

Despite the fact that a 16-year-old girl was named Time magazine’s person of the year, the world’s girls continue to face rights violations. An estimated 12 million girls continue to be married each year,[ii] contributing to the leading cause of death for adolescent girls between the ages of 15 and 19: pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. The second most common cause is suicide.[iii] In countries where female genital mutilation is most concentrated, the majority of girls are cut by the time they are 14.[iv] If there was a time to bring about a step change in girls’ rights, then 2020 is the year. 

Twenty-five years ago, the international community came together and adopted what is considered to be the most progressive blueprint written on women’s and girls’ rights. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference for Women, was endorsed by 189 countries and later adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly.

Crucially, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was the first global document that recognized girls as a distinct group, facing specific rights violations and needs due to the intersection of age and gender. It dedicated a standalone section to addressing the specific rights violations that girls experience – affirming their rights not only to health and education, but also to have a voice in shaping the decisions that impact their lives.

Yet despite comprehensive commitments to girls, 25 years later, girls continue to fall through programmatic and policy gap, and girls’ voices – their hopes and dreams for the futures – too often go unheard.

A failure to systematically and consistently include girls’ voices and perspectives in policy making and accountability processes compounds the issue. As governments, UN agencies, civil society and other actors come together on the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, we must seize this opportunity. This is a watershed moment for girls, and the international community must not fail them.

I recently met a girl named Khadra while visiting a Somali refugee camp. After her husband, to whom she was married at age 13, left her behind to marry another girl in the village, Khadra was struggling to support her two small children on her own. Though Khadra told me she had done well in her studies and was ready to go on to secondary school, the decision to get married at age 13 and to stop her education was not her own.

Tackling issues such as child marriage are complex. They often reflect compounding forms of discrimination and require holistic investment – in education, health care as well as in voice and agency. At the national level, many countries are developing integrated costed national action plans to accelerate progress for girls; a global system that mirrors and supports that ambition is critical.

Photo credit: Save the Children
Anxhela, Cecelia and Keren hold signs supporting girls’ rights during Save the Children’s Bridge the Gap for Girls event in Brooklyn, New York on International Day of the Girl. “That day, I felt more energetic, optimistic and motivated to continue my fight for girls’ rights, said 16-year old Anxhela, “and empowerment that can lead them to a better life and future.”Photo credit: Save the Children, 2019.

All over the world, when given the slightest opportunity or encouragement, we see girls demanding their own seat at the table. Just this past October, three girls, Anxhela from North-East Albania, Cecelia from Malawi and Keren from Peru, joined me in leading Save the Children’s Bridge the Gap for Girls walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. They also participated in a panel discussion at the U.S. Senate, where they spoke about the importance of girls’ voices and the meaningful participation of girls in policy spaces. Anxhela, Cecelia and Keren, along with so many other girl champions, are making their voices heard and their communities stronger and healthier, taking on some of the toughest challenges of their societies.

As the international community, we must stand with girls like these across the globe and ensure that they have a strong platform to use to shape their future – and that we are accountable to them. The best opportunity for this to happen is for there to be an action coalition focused on adolescent girls that looks holistically at their lives and that includes their participation throughout the process.

We know from experience that girls face distinct rights violations, and they need a concrete action plan tailored to address their specific gender- and age-driven needs.

#GenerationEquality starts in childhood. Let’s work together with girls to ensure that they are not left behind!

 

[i] UNESCO UNESCO; UNICEF, Save the Children, Many Faces of Exclusion

[ii] Girls Not Brides

[iii] WHO

[iv] UNICEF

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: CJ Clarke / Save the Children, 2015

Scaling-up first-time and young parent access to postpartum family planning: Could small shifts change the game?

In many contexts, the youngest mothers (ages 15-24) are less likely than older mothers to use health services, including postpartum family planning (PPFP), for themselves and their children, increasing their vulnerability to rapid repeat pregnancy and poor health outcomes. At this life stage, a period of rapid change and vulnerability, it is vital young mothers get the support they need, and it is increasingly seen as a window of opportunity to shape life-long practices. A growing body of program experiences have shed light on first-time parents’ (FTPs) needs and related programming considerations. Evidence shows that comprehensive approaches addressing individual, family, community, and health system factors can increase FTPs’ use of PPFP and other essential health services. While showing promising impact, these comprehensive approaches have proven challenging to scale.

In Save the Children’s large-scale projects, we have long seen that the mothers bringing young children to immunization services, participating in community nutrition groups, or receiving household visits from community health workers are often young themselves. FTPs are often being reached, but not necessarily targeted with interventions addressing their family planning needs—despite evidence that improving birth spacing through PPFP contributes to diverse project goals.

This gives rise to two sets of sticky questions:

  1. Could a large-scale project be enhanced to leverage its reach and connect FTPs to PPFP?

Could we add an activity, or rework an existing activity, to take advantage of a large-scale initiative’s reach of FTPs? For example, a community group for pregnant women or mothers could strengthen referral systems to connect the youngest members to health facilities. Alternatively, for FTPs delivering in facilities, we might augment counseling to address their unique needs, facilitating PPFP uptake before discharge. Such a “program enhancement” could maximize impact with limited resources, reducing missed opportunities to target a vulnerable population.

We need to understand whether such an enhancement could be effective in increasing PPFP use. But to be truly instructive, we also need to understand how the enhancement interacts with and is shaped by the “host project” and the broader health system—and how it can be sustained through existing platforms at scale.

Which brings us to the second, stickier question, one that is often ignored in evaluations of this kind.

2. What factors would shape implementation and impact of an enhancement to a large-scale project?

We know that context matters: country- and host project-specific factors—goals, strategies, supervision mechanisms, health worker workloads, even intrinsic and extrinsic motivators—will make or break design, implementation, and scale of even a simple tweak to planned activities. We also know that over time, approaches adapt to context and implementation learning—so that what started as Plan A evolves to become Plan D or H or even Plan M by the time we evaluate and scale up.

In other words, to sustainably embed an enhancement into the health system—and to inform similar endeavors—we’d need to unpack the “black box” between implementation and impact. What unique elements of the host project and health system influence an enhancement—and what questions would others need to raise to layer an enhancement in a different setting? How do the enhancement and its implementation evolve over time and in scale-up, and why? What unintended effects emerge from the interplay between the enhancement, the host project, and the broader health system?

Introducing Connect

Connect, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is poised to grapple with these questions. Over 4 years, Connect will build on two Save the Children-led projects and design, scale, and evaluate an incremental enhancement to reach FTPs at scale.

In Bangladesh, Connect will partner with the USAID-funded MaMoni-Maternal and Newborn Care Strengthening Project (MaMoni MNCSP), which supports the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to improve maternal and newborn health in ten focus districts. In Tanzania, Connect leverages the USAID-funded Lishe Endelevu project, which aims to reduce stunting in children under five and improve the diet of 1.5 million women of reproductive age.

Connect will rigorously evaluate the impact on FP use and, drawing from realist evaluation principles, dig into that “black box” between implementation and results. Connect will yield practical how-to guidance, informing other efforts to more efficiently and effectively target FTPs with PPFP.

Connect’s partnership

Save the Children, the project lead, leverages our FTP and health system strengthening expertise and multisectoral operating presence to spearhead the design and implementation of program enhancements with MaMoni MNCSP and Lishe Endelevu and country stakeholders.

The George Washington University Milken School of Public Health (GWU) evaluates the impact of the program enhancements through rigorous quantitative methods and contributes to a qualitative realist-inspired evaluation exploring factors shaping implementation, scale, and sustainability.

We’re excited to dive into these complex questions and look forward to sharing Connect’s results and lessons. For more information, check out Connect’s fact sheet or contact myahner@savechildren.org 

Ending Child Marriage in Humanitarian Settings: Ensuring Accountability to Girls Through Improved Data, Collection, Analysis and Use

Written by Leslie Archambeault, Director of Gender Policy & Advocacy Policy

Child marriage is form of gender-based violence that robs girls of their agency to make decisions about their lives, disrupts their education, and drives vulnerability to ongoing violence, discrimination and abuse. It  prevents girls’ full participation in economic, political, and social spheres throughout their lives. Despite global progress, 12 million girls marry each year before they reach the age of 18. By 2030, over 150 million more girls will before they are 18, and 28.1 million will marry before the age of 15, based on current rates.

Girls who marry under the age of 18 are also at higher risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth is the number one killer of girls aged 15-19 worldwide. Significantly, 90% of births to girls aged 15-19 occur within a marriage.

Girls living in countries affected by conflict or other humanitarian crises are often the most vulnerable of all to child marriage. Factors that put girls at risk for child marriage in stable times such as poverty, lack of education, and insecurity are exacerbated during times of instability. In fact, 9 out of the 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are considered fragile or extremely fragile states.   

One of the reasons why child marriage in humanitarian settings continues to persist is a significant lack of data. The complex and often under-resourced humanitarian environments present a number of barriers to addressing this issue, even as humanitarian actors continue to flag this critical problem.

A newly published white paper commissioned by Save the Children, Addressing Data Gaps on Child, Early and Forced Marriage in Humanitarian Settings analyzes the current evidence and knowledge base on child marriage in humanitarian settings to see why such data gaps persist. It proposes recommendations for enhancing current data collection tools, analysis, and use in order to effectively address the issue through prevention and response efforts.

The white paper, published during the final days of the annual 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-Based Violence, is the culmination of extensive interviews with key actors across the humanitarian system, as well as with technical experts on gender-based violence prevention and response, and child marriage more specifically.

The research found that current data collection tools measuring prevalence of child marriage in different contexts, fail to adequately account for child marriage in humanitarian settings because of a few key reasons:

  • The tools currently used are mainly carried out in stable settings, due to limitations in the tools themselves;
  • Current data collection tools are used every 3-10 years, meaning critical data from periods of fragility may be missed;
  • Collection of data on forcibly displaced populations, including refugees and internally displaced persons, is not consistent and difficult to capture;
  • Data collected is primarily country-level but does not get to community or more local analysis, which is needed for humanitarian contexts;
  • The data only provides information on prevalence, and not incidence.

The resounding conclusion of these interviews and the paper’s analysis was that the ongoing data gaps on child marriage in humanitarian settings are a complicated and daunting issue to tackle – yet there are potential ways forward if the international community is willing to work together.

Building on existing data collection mechanisms would allow for a much greater understanding of the complexity of child marriage in humanitarian crises. This would require a great deal of cooperation and alignment across the various humanitarian response actors, particularly within the United Nations’ humanitarian architecture.

Humanitarian actors across the United Nations, government, and civil society, must demonstrate commitment to urgently addressing child marriage in humanitarian settings – and must make addressing data gaps a priority. This includes a commitment to sustained financial and human resources to support the collection, coordination, analysis, disaggregation and use of enhanced data on child marriage in humanitarian settings.

Without consistent and sustained data collection, analysis and use on child marriage in humanitarian settings, a fundamental rights violation impacting millions of girls across the globe will remain largely invisible. Humanitarian Needs Assessments and Response Plans will fail to adequately provide for addressing child marriage, and funding needs will not be met. Even more significantly, girls will be unable to hold governments and other duty-bearers accountable for commitments they have made to end child marriage in every context, including under such international legal and policy frameworks as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

The humanitarian community must take action now to end child marriage – and must work together to address data gaps through enhancing current data collection tools and developing new ways of working that break down sector and agency silos. Girls everywhere have the right to grow up healthy, educated, and protected from violence.

 

Anxhela, a 16-year old from North-East Albania, is a student in 12 grade, a storyteller, a painter and an advocate for children and specifically girls’ rights. Photo credit: Save the Children

Diary of a Girl Champion: Advocating for Girls’ Education and Empowerment

This blog was originally published on Save the Children’s UK blog, Voices for Change

I’m Anxhela, 16 years old from North-East Albania, one of the poorest areas where poverty and unemployment dominate. I’m a student in 12 grade, a storyteller, a painter and an advocate for children and specifically girls’ rights. 

In my country children make up over 35% of the population and over 20% of them live in absolute poverty. Poverty is a widespread and rising phenomenon that affects children’s success and progress in school. As per the ‘Young Voice’ Albania 2017 report, 83.3% of children consider poverty, exclusion, and disability as areas of particular concern.

Violence against children is widespread and is used as a way of disciplining children. Children lack opportunities to participate in decision making processes and their interests are frequently disregarded in school and community. Many girls are victims of violence, discrimination and are enforced or convinced to get married at early age, due to tradition and lack of support to follow education.

I think that the most important thing for girls to overcome barriers is to get educated, equip with knowledge and skills and empower to speak up for the realization of their rights. When girls overcome barriers and empower, they are able to lead, influence and inspire the world for a better life for all.

These were some of my views and messages I shared and conveyed through my participation and remarks held during the International Day of Girl events in New York and Washington DC. I was invited by Save the Children to bring the voice of girls from Albania and around the world and advocate for their rights and wellbeing.

For more than a week, I had the opportunity to meet with girls and young women, listened to their life stories and empowerment journey. I was impressed how many things we have in common as regards barriers and struggles as well as the will and commitment to bring about a change and make the world better for all.

Photo credit: Save the Children

My visit in U.S. was the first one for me abroad and most impressive and inspiring ever. I felt happy, important, supported, motivated and very responsible to do my best for promoting girls’ voice and rights.

A special part of my advocacy mission in US, was also meeting with two other wonderful girls – Cecilia from Malawi and Keren from Peru. Being together, sharing feelings and experiences, going around and taking photos as well, I felt better and stronger. I have so much to talk about my U.S. visit – it was an experience of my life that I will never forget.

The two main events I went to were – ‘Girls Speak Out’ event at UN Assembly and “Bridge the Gap for Girls” in NY. ‘Bridge the gap for Girls’ was one of the big events by Save the Children where I had the opportunity to meet a lot of amazing people including Gina Torres, a famous actor.  On that day I raised my voice and bridged the gaps for girls’ protection. That day, Cecilia, Keren and I led the walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and hundreds of people joined us in that walk. It was such an empowerment and wonderful feeling. That day, I felt more energetic, optimistic and motivated to continue my fight for girls’ rights and empowerment that can lead them to a better life and future.

In Washington DC, I had some other important meetings with members of Congress and had the opportunity to speak with influential women and men who are vocal and supportive to girls’ rights.

The last event I attended and spoke at was hosted by the World Bank Group – “Learning Poverty”. I participated in a Facebook Live interview on the importance of leadership by girls and children at school and community levels. In the meeting I was a special speaker invitee and was part of a very important panel with Word Bank Group President David Malpass, Save the Children UK CEO Kevin Watkins, Vice President of Human Development of WBG Annette Dixon, Ghana Senior Minister, Morocco Minister of Economy and Mayor of Sobral, Brasil and the moderator Kaya Henderson, former Chancellor of DC schools.

At the beginning of my speech, I felt a bit nervous but soon after I was able to control my emotions and gave my remarks that received a lot of applause. Through my remarks I highlighted that: “Children and youth are the future. When we are educated, we are the ones who can make change and make the world better”.

Now I can say that as a girl and child activist, I am happy to have had the opportunity to raise my voice and advocate for girls and children rights globally. This trip was a new experience for me. I learned new knowledge and gained new skills. Now I feel much more empowered, confident and motivated to go on with my advocacy and inspire my peers to follow education and speak out for their issues and realization of their rights.

 

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