Stemming girls’ chronic poverty: Catalysing development change by building just social institutions


Childhood, adolescence and early adulthood remain for many girls and young women a period of deprivation, danger and vulnerability, resulting in lack of agency and critical development deficits. What happens at this crucial time in girls’ and young women’s lives can also reinforce their poverty status and that of their offspring, as well as influencing their movement into or out of poverty. In many cases, overlapping experiences of deprivation, foregone human development opportunities and abuse or exploitation perpetuate and intensify poverty for girls and young women over the life-course.

Recently – in part because of the child focus of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the 2007 World Development Report – there has been growing attention on the need to include girls (and boys) more prominently in development agendas. How to do this effectively, however, remains under-researched, especially in debates around chronic poverty, which have in general paid relatively limited attention to gender dynamics.

This report addresses this gap by placing girls and young women centre stage, highlighting ways in which five context-specific social institutions inform and determine their life opportunities and agency. Based on the OECD’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI), these are: discriminatory family codes, son bias, limited resource rights and entitlements, physical insecurity and restricted civil liberties. We discuss the characteristics of each social institution, its gendered dimensions, its linkages to poverty dynamics and its impacts on girls and young women.

We balance this with a review of promising policies and programmes aimed at tackling the discriminatory dimensions of these institutions. Social institutions are constantly undergoing change. The process may be slow, uneven and even suffer from reversals in some contexts, but the evidence that we present underscores that positive change for girls and young women is possible, even in the most challenging socio-cultural, political and economic contexts.


Chronic Poverty Research Centre, London, UK, 76 pp. (full report) and 11 pp. (summary booklet)

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