Jaha Dukureh, a survivor of female genital mutilation and founder of Safe Hands for Girls Tom Williams/Getty Images

Empowering Girls

The effects of practices like female genital mutilation and child marriage on women's health and wellbeing – and that of their children – are no mystery. What is not so well understood is which measures do the most to reduce the prevalence of such practices.

WASHINGTON, DC – In the lottery of life, being born female in a poor country places one at a double disadvantage. Women in poor countries have the highest global incidence of poverty of any demographic group, along with the worst health conditions, the least access to education, and the highest likelihood of being victims of violence.

Gender inequality – through workplace exclusion and lower pay – costs the world a staggering 15.5% of GDP. Denying women opportunities to develop their potential means that societies forego their contribution. Yet the frustrating reality is that effective solutions to address gender inequality can be difficult to identify.

At the most extreme end of the scale of disempowerment are the 30 million girls deemed at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) over the next decade. The procedure is almost universal in Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Mali, Sierra Leone, and Sudan. The World Health Organization warns that affected women suffer long-term health problems and higher rates of perinatal death.

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