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GAGE, girls’ clubs and gaps: what’s next?

Girl students discuss their issues at a Girl's Club meeting at Oda Aneso Primary School. Photo: Alternative Basic Education Center

Among some actors in the international development community there’s a general but unfounded sense that girls’ clubs are a bit of a luxury and don’t really tackle the serious business of improved well-being.

But if we consider the wide range of skills and knowledge needed for girls to make a healthy transition to adulthood then girls’ clubs and life skills programmes have the potential to play a critical role.

The GAGE review of girls’ clubs and life skills programmes highlights the importance of these initiatives for self-efficacy, social connectedness, and building knowledge and skills essential for adult life. Many of the topics covered by girls’ clubs are neglected in school curricula – from communication and financial literacy skills, to sexual and reproductive health and protection from harmful traditional practices.

Our research shows the wealth of innovative approaches for engaging adolescent girls and highlights the potential for lesson learning, sharing and building on good practice. It also highlights some key knowledge gaps that GAGE will help plug.

GAGE’s most critical contribution will be to explore the extent to which effects of girls’ clubs and life skills programmes are sustained over time and the differential effects such initiatives have on the lives of different age segments of girls and boys. GAGE will track 18,000 adolescents – plus their families and peers – over eight years to understand shifts and capabilities and vulnerabilities over time.

When conducting this longitudinal research we are also going to have an important opportunity to tease out what sort of engagement with parents is most effective: buy-in to support girls’ participation in girls’ clubs or investing in positive parenting education and skills building, or a combination of both.

We will also aim to unpack whether girls’ clubs can expand positive impacts beyond the individual to strengthen adolescents’ collective capabilities. For example, do clubs provide the leadership or civic engagement skills to give more girls a voice at the community decision-making level? Can clubs, through engaging young people, support social cohesion in fragmented and/or conflict-affected societies? GAGE will explore these dimensions in Jordan and Lebanon in particular by assessing the effectiveness of clubs working with Syrian and Palestinian refugees.

There’s also questions about the role of religious organisations in supporting adolescent clubs. For example, in the Middle East, Islamic charitable associations actively organise clubs for adolescent girls and boys but there’s little evidence on the effects of these initiatives. Could these clubs help scale-up efforts to educate and empower girls in countries where such associations are an important part of society? Are there trade-offs in terms of skills and knowledge taught? Here too GAGE’s work in the MENA region will be able to offer valuable insights over time.

More broadly, by looking internationally at different approaches to girls’ clubs, we will explore whether we can identify any regional patterning in terms of approaches that work best in diverse contexts.

Finally, existing evidence suggests that clubs have a lot of positive effects for girls, but what about boys? Our review found that school-based gender equality clubs are often open to both sexes – and are typically quite effective in changing boys’ attitudes and behaviour. A few of the community-based programmes were mixed gender, or featured separate boys’ clubs, with some notable successes in terms of attitudes to gender equality and gender-based violence.

GAGE’s next rigorous evidence review will collect evidence on effective programming for adolescent boys. This will focus both on how to promote gender equitable attitudes and behaviour among a critical group for girls’ well-being, and how to improve boys’ well-being outcomes in areas where there are clear gendered disadvantages.

Read five ways girls’ clubs and life skills programmes improve adolescent girls’ well-being 

Plan International explores its learnings from implementing girls’ clubs in Nepal and Sierra Leone