Population Council researchers are testing approaches to determine whether combining cash incentives with girl-centered programming can improve the lives of very young adolescent girls in rural Liberia.
Liberia’s 14-year civil war was one of the most violent conflicts in African history. By its end in 2003, over 250,000 people had been killed, and widespread violence against women had been perpetrated. The post-conflict environment continues to foster sexual and gender-based violence, as well as high rates of adolescent childbearing.
In North-Central Liberia, the situation for adolescent girls is dire. Nearly half of girls age 10-14 are not enrolled in school. Among girls age 15-24, more than one in four girls report having experienced violence (26.9%). In Nimba County, Liberia alone, nearly four in ten rural girls aged 13-14 years have experienced some form of sexual abuse, and nearly half indicated having experienced physical abuse.
The Population Council is conducting a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate Girl Empower, a girl-centered program that seeks to help 13 to 14-year-old girls make healthy life choices, decrease their risk of sexual abuse, and improve school attendance rates. The Girl Empower program includes a life skills curriculum, facilitated by local mentors, a caregiver discussion group led by International Rescue Committee (IRC) staff, and a savings account start-up.
Eighty-four villages in rural Nimba County, Liberia were assigned to one of three interventions:
- Arm 1: Control group with no Girl Empower intervention
- Arm 2: Girl Empower intervention
- Arm 3: Girl Empower intervention plus a conditional cash incentive to caregivers upon girls’ attendance
The Population Council evaluated seven key outcomes and sub-indexes across the three arms, including sexual violence, schooling, psychological well-being, gender norms, life skills, sexual and reproductive health, and protective factors, such as social capital.
The Girl Empower program, led by the IRC, was designed to support girls in emergency settings to develop and attain financial goals, increase self-confidence, become self-reliant, develop a system of support in their community, and feel supported in a safe and healthy environment. The IRC implemented the Girl Empower model in Liberia and Ethiopia, and the Population Council evaluated the impact of the interventions in Nimba County, Liberia.
Ultimately, results are varied and show that the Girl Empower program had a significant positive impact on some outcomes with limited or no outcomes on others. The Girl Empower program, both with and without the conditional cash transfer, had significant positive impacts on encouraging safer sexual behaviors (prolonged abstinence, more condom use, and fewer sexual partners), gender norms (both for the caregivers and for the girls themselves), and life skills. In each of the three outcome domains, the addition of the condition cash transfer resulted in an even greater positive impact. Notably, the addition of the cash transfer had a 50% stronger effect on sexual behavior outcomes.
This is the first RCT to examine the effects of a cash transfer program combined with gender transformative content on girls’ experience of sexual violence. The research findings will add to the existing knowledge base of interventions for girls in humanitarian settings, and strengthen the evidence-base for girl-centered programming more broadly.