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on Adolescent Girls in New York

May 20, 2010

From the 26th to the 28t of April, the New School and UNICEF organized the conference “Adolescent Girls – Cornerstone of Society”. The conference was attended by researchers, practitioners and donors alike to discuss the importance of adolescent girls in development and improvement of their own lives as well as the societies they live in. The acknowledgment of this importance and initiatives to address those issues that pertain particularly to adolescent girls are still novel and have only recently gained more attention. As such, this conference was ground-breaking as it focused exclusively on adolescent girls.

I presented a paper entitled: Adolescent Girls – how to gain insight. Using the generic construction process developed in the 2009 paper in the Child Indicators Research, I aimed to develop a multidimensional approach for the measurement of poverty amongst adolescent girls and used the MICS data from Vietnam as a case study. The paper presented a very exploratory study as little research has been done to assess the specific situation of adolescents, and girls in particular, in terms of multidimensional poverty. Future research should be directed towards a clearer concept of adolescence within the well-being and well-becoming discussion and the availabilities of the limited data available for operationalizing the concept.


Many issues were discussed but there are a few issues that I found striking and should be considered further. Firstly, what do we mean when referring to adolescent girls? Do we consider them a group that should be economically empowered? Should they be agents of social change and play an active role in the development and improvement of lives in their society? Or should they be able to be girls without assigning them any special responsibilities just because they live in a situation that needs improvement? The various sessions and panels at the conference made clear that different people have different thoughts about this and how this also makes a difference for the policies and programmes designed to improve the lives of adolescent girls. More effort needs to put into defining our expectations from and responsibilities to adolescent girls to better understand their situation and address it. A second issue refers to the programming for adolescent girls. The many discussions at the conference surely pointed out that adolescent girls are a very particular group that deserve special attention. But doesn’t this narrow focus on adolescent girls in the formulation, design and implementation of policies and programmes confirm their disadvantaged position in society and thereby even marginalize them further. Finally, it was obvious that data to gain insight into those issues that are particularly relevant for adolescents, and girls in particular, is missing from large-scale household surveys such as MICS and living standard surveys. Issues include subjective well-being and reproductive health issues. More effort needs to be directed towards overcoming methodolgical and ethical constraints to obtain information, gain insight and build evidence on the situation of adolescent girls and the world they live in.

More information about the conference can be found at the Equity for Children website.

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