Charting the future: empowering girls to prevent early pregnancy

Research reports and studies
July 2012
Elizabeth Presler-Marshall and Nicola Jones

Adolescent pregnancy is dangerous – and often fatal. In developing countries it is the leading cause of death for adolescent girls, affecting--in general--the poorest girls in the poorest countries. Adolescent pregnancy is dangerous for babies too—those born to teen mothers are 50% more likely to die in their first month of life than those born to women in their 20s.

The barriers girls face in controlling their fertility are many and varied; they are intertwined, and inexorably steeped in these patriarchal gender relations. Solutions are similarly complex. There is a need for multi-faced strategies that enable and encourage girls to chart their own futures, and choose motherhood only if and when they are ready.

This report recognises the necessity of providing commodities and services. However, it concludes that efforts to ‘solve’ the problem of adolescent pregnancy must simultaneously address the social norms, gender roles and traditions that limit girls’ options for their future.

Review of the evidence on adolescent fertility and family planning needs suggests that a two-pronged approach is necessary. Such an approach would seek to empower girls and shift social institutions while also promoting an environment which, from local communities to international donors, enables and supports access to contraceptives for all, whether adolescent boys and girls or adult men and women.

In order to chart their own futures and choose motherhood only if and when they are ready, girls need to be empowered along five key dimensions.

  1. Socio-cultural empowerment
  2. Educational and economic empowerment
  3. Interpersonal empowerment
  4. Legal empowerment
  5. Practical empowerment