Working with financial institutions, the Council is helping adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa gain financial literacy and save money.
When girls in sub-Saharan Africa do not have safe places to store money, they can be robbed; suffer harassment by family members, boyfriends, husbands, and others in their communities; and become targets of sexual violence. Having access to savings accounts can help girls stay safe and save money, giving them more economic stability as they enter adulthood.
But Council research shows that having savings—even in a secure place—can increase girls’ risk if they do not have the proper social support systems. It is critical that adolescent girls develop resources, including social, health, and economic assets, so that they have the support networks, knowledge, and skills to safely participate in society.
Safe and Smart Savings is a Population Council–developed program to help vulnerable adolescent girls build assets, support networks, and savings in order to break the grip of poverty. The program combines weekly group meetings facilitated by a female mentor, financial education, health and life skills education, and formal individual savings accounts. The program, which has been piloted and evaluated in Nairobi, Kenya and Kampala, Uganda, has increased girls’ social, health, and economic assets. Girls who participate are significantly more likely than other girls to have financial goals and accurate financial knowledge, to know about HIV and reproductive health, and to discuss financial issues with parents. They are also less likely to be sexually harassed.
The pilot phase of the program reached more than 12,000 girls in Kenya and Uganda. The program is now being expanded to more than 8,000 girls in Kenya, the majority of whom live outside Nairobi. The Council is examining the effect of the program on a number of outcomes.
Studies are providing more in-depth information on the relationship between economic assets for girls and the risk of sexual violence and exploitation. The project is also assessing strategies aimed at reducing girls’ risk while they continue to build their economic independence.