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Creating the Cohort study

Creating the Cohort study

Our study has been following 142 girls and their families from nine countries since their birth in 2006, and we hope to continue following them until they reach 18. We want to create this in-depth study in order to generate a better understanding of the realities facing girls growing up in poverty.

As the girls in our study turn 10, it is a significant opportunity to stop, think and consider what we have learnt about their lives so far.

A girl from our Real Choices, Real Lives study
A girl from our Real Choices, Real Lives study, Cambodia

I started working on this project almost six years ago, when the girls were only four years old. It has, in a sense, been a very personal project to be part of. You learn a lot about the girls and their families – the challenges the family is facing for example, or the girl’s experiences of the outside world - friendships, school and so on. I have watched the girls grow from infants, into childhood and now as they transition into early adolescence. Sadly seven of the girls in our study have passed away, five of these deaths occurred before the age of five. Although all of the causes of these deaths are different, they are all a sad reminder of the consequences of living in poverty.

The nine countries where this study operates are very different from each other, but overall despite these differences, we see that gender inequality is prevalent in all nine of these countries, and the interrelation between poverty, gender and age cause significant challenges for girls.

At the moment, the aspirations for the girls’ futures (from both the parents and the girls themselves) are high. The girls aspire to being teachers, nurses and doctors when they grow up. These career choices will of course require university level education. In our wider work at Plan International UK we have learnt that adolescence is a time when external factors such as poverty, early marriage or poor quality education, combined with ingrained gender inequality can cause significant challenges for girls. The parents in our study, although they want the best for their daughters, worry about their ability to continue to support them to complete their schooling in order to go on to be the doctors, or teachers that they dream about.

Our evidence is unique in the sense that we are able to track each individual girl and her family through the life cycle. We will generate ground-breaking evidence to help us understand how and why challenges affect girls and at what age do these bear significance. This evidence will aid the international community to understand better how and when to design programmatic activities to support girls.

We are putting real names, real faces to the statistics, theories and discussions we have surrounding girls and gender equality more broadly. We are reflecting the lived reality of 142 girls from nine countries, and we will make sure they are listened to. Download the report.

A girl from our Real Choices, Real Lives study
A girl from our Real Choices, Real Lives study, Togo

Margaret Akello – Plan International Uganda gender specialist

Margaret had a key role in collecting data from girls in Uganda, I asked her a few questions on what her experience of working on the report was.

  • Why do you think it’s important that we do this type of research?

Once you are clear on the situation facing girls, you are better equipped to develop appropriate strategies to address the situation, and that is why we think by investing in this research we will build a better picture for designing interventions targeting adolescent girls in our programmes.

  • What one piece of information has come out in this year’s report that you think is most important?

It was interesting to see girls begin to experience early adolescence. The likely challenges that adolescent girls face in Uganda may also affect the cohort girls, for example; challenges around child marriage, teenage pregnancy, school drop out and HIV infection. It is interesting to see that at just 10 years old these issues are starting to creep into their lives.

  • 10 years on what has been the most significant change in these girls’ lives?

The girls are getting more shy, some are beginning to hate school. Most of them are taking on more household chores like washing plates, collecting water and cooking up to five hours a day.

  • What overarching recommendation can you give to improve the lives of all girls around the world?

Education is one very practical way to empower girls globally. Allowing girls to stay longer in schools is my main recommendation.

  • What do you hope to see the next 10 years bring to the girls?

 We all need to come up with interventions that empower girls. If we leave them, they will all get absorbed by the challenges that poverty and being a girl bring.

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