Girl-centered solutions for unlocking the potential of adolescent girls
There are more than 600 million adolescent girls in the world today — equipped with the right resources and opportunities, they will be the largest cohort of female leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs and change-makers the world has ever seen. They have also shown tremendous courage, strength, and resilience during unprecedented challenges, from the global COVID-19 pandemic, to spiraling climate crises, to fragility and conflict. However, their enormous potential remains constrained by multiple interlocking barriers, from negative stereotypes and harmful social norms, to discrimination in accessing technology or apprenticeships. Investing in their success creates a ripple effect that benefits individual girls, along with their families, their communities and entire societies. In other words — when girls succeed, we all succeed.
The future workforce is projected to focus on science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and social entrepreneurship. Over 90 percent of jobs worldwide have a digital component, but options remain limited or non-existent for girls, especially adolescent girls, to excel in these male-dominated fields. Women represent only 35% of global Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (STEM) graduates at the tertiary level. In many contexts, adolescent girls have no say in decisions that affect them, resulting in programmes and services that do not respond to their specific needs, hindering them from reaching their full potential. Globally, about 1 billion girls and women lack the skills they need to succeed in rapidly changing job markets while 1 in 4 girls aged 15–19 years is neither employed nor in education or training compared to 1 in 10 boys of the same age. The COVID-19 pandemic made things even more difficult for millions of girls, particularly those in marginalised communities. Over 11 million girls may not return to school after the COVID-19 pandemic, with severe consequences for their futures.
UNICEF, through the Skills4Girls Portfolio, is currently working with and for girls in more than 20 countries to bridge the gap between the skills girls need to be competitive in the 21st century workforce, versus those they have traditionally had access to. Skills4Girls has impacted more than 5.8 million girls since 2019. The aim is to reach 11.5 million adolescent girls by 2025 with gender-transformative skills-building.
The Skills4Girls Portfolio addresses the UNICEF Gender Action Plan-2022-2025 key commitment to prioritize the leadership and well-being of adolescent girls; and it is hinged on Goal Area 2 of UNICEF’s Strategic Plan 2022-2025, which focuses on access to quality learning opportunities, skills, participation and engagement for all children and adolescents. As one of the five targeted priorities for Girls’ Empowerment in the Gender Action Plan, investments in girls’ education and skills are a critical pathway to dignified work. Skills4Girls develops girls’ skills in areas such as STEM, digital technologies, and social entrepreneurship in addition to life skills such as problem-solving, negotiation, self-esteem, and communication.
Skills4Girls takes a girl-centered approach to skills building:
Girl-centered engagement: Putting girls at the center of design, implementation, monitoring and learning.
Girl-specific skills: Focusing on competencies that position girls to participate equally and transition to employment
Girl-focused approaches: Tailoring strategies to girls’ needs, including safe spaces, mentorship, internships, access to technology, and leadership development.
In Burundi, one in five women aged 15–24 is illiterate and only 10 per cent of girls complete secondary school. Using blended learning approaches, coupled with social innovation and social entrepreneurship, young people are empowered to identify challenges in their communities and create entrepreneurial solutions to address them.
In Jordan, half of all young women are neither employed nor in training or education. Through mobile Innovation Labs, girls are empowered to transition to productive and resilient adulthood by developing their skills and technical capacities. The labs give young people a chance to plan, conceive and develop innovative solutions, as well as training in coding, financial planning and business.
Skills4Girls is working to make education in STEM more gender-responsive in Kyrgyzstan, while offering girls aged 15-18 a chance to connect with and be inspired by peers and women in STEM fields. Mentoring and short-term job placements offer girls a chance to make better career decisions and build a support network.
In Niger, where 75 per cent of girls are married as children and nearly half become mothers by age 18, the priority of Skills4Girls is to equip girls with skills and tools to be economically productive, with the additional security and empowerment this can offer. This includes literacy and numeracy classes, entrepreneurship training, and skills to find or create meaningful employment — especially in STEM-related fields.
In Tajikistan, through 15 nationwide Innovation Labs the programme targets rural adolescent girls who are not in school or work. A tailored curriculum offers context and age-specific lessons to equip the girls with 21st century skills and the confidence they need to explore a range of opportunities. They are trained in digital and transferable skills like problem-solving, empathy, teamwork and goal setting.
Skills4Girls in Vietnam works with girls in rural remote settings and poor urban areas to increase their participation in skilled work, especially in fields where they are underrepresented. The programme equips girls with STEM, digital technology skills and life skills such as self-confidence, problem-solving and decision-making.
Skills4Girls is generously supported by private sector partners, including Clé de Peau Beauté, Chloé, Dove, Max Factor and the Government of Iceland.
- Adolescent education and skills-development
- Giving Girls the Right Skills for the Job
- Global Forum for Children and Youth
- CY21 community session on girl-centered solutions
- Girls in Tech
- A new era for girls Taking stock on 25 years of progress for girls
- Harnessing the power of data for girls: Taking stock and looking ahead to 2030
- Tech Trailblazers
- TEEN. GIRL. ACTIVIST