The Blog

Economic Empowerment Helps Girls To Invest In Themselves


Ana Catarina (Image: Plan International)

Ana Catarina is the manager of a noisy, crowded public school in the large metropolitan area of Recife, northeastern Brazil. She stands calmly amid the chaos of boys and girls stomping up and down corridors and across classrooms, playing and shouting and vying for attention. These children come from some of the most disadvantaged groups in the country.

Over the past few years, it has appeared on the surface at least that Brazil has gone from strength to strength - having hosted a World Cup and a celebrated Olympic Games, the country has rarely been far from the spotlight.

But amid a stalling economy and political instability, the glitz of the 'greatest shows on earth' may have worn off. And for the more vulnerable groups in Brazilian society, life can be anything but a samba party.

Women and girls in particular are yet to enjoy the fruits of Brazil's undisputed progress. Inequality is entrenched in the Brazilian way of life, with 'machismo' culture, big numbers dropping out of school, and a high rate of violence against women and girls. But smart interventions can help turn this around.

Monday March 27th marks the start of Global Money Week - an annual celebration aimed at inspiring children and youth to learn about money, saving, creating livelihoods, gaining employment and becoming an entrepreneur. These are crucial life skills for people in extreme poverty, and Plan International UK works with children and families to build up the skills they need to increase their income and assets.

Our work in this area includes the Financial Education for Girls programme. In partnership with Credit Suisse and Aflatoun International, the programme aims to empower adolescent girls socially and economically. Students learn about saving and spending, planning and budgeting, their rights and responsibilities, and many other financial and practical life skills that will prepare them for the future.

Parts of the country still face extreme poverty - and women and girls are often the worst affected. In some areas around Ana Catarina's school, up to 45 per cent of children don't finish primary school. Teachers tend to be poorly trained and supported, while learning materials are insufficient.

Girls' education is especially undervalued, with parents preferring that their daughters remain at home and perform domestic chores instead of attending school.

But as a new generation of Brazilians begins to enter the workplace, there are signs that these old stereotypes won't last forever.

Ana Catarina is passionate about making life easier for the children in her school - especially the girls.

"I wanted to move to a more troubled school because I wanted a challenge. I saw that this school needed my help more than my previous school which had many resources" she says.

Resources - and how to manage them - are something about which Ana Catarina's students are becoming more and more aware. The skills being taught through the Financial Education for Girls programme can help Brazilian girls and young women build a future outside of the home, and no longer be dependent on others.

One of the girls in the programme is Mariana, who is 13 years old. She says she has "changed completely" because of it. Before joining, she didn't understand the concept of saving.

"I used to spend all the money I received from my parents and grandparents, and I spent it too fast," she says, "I did not even see what I was using the money for!"

This sort of economic knowledge and self-direction is one step towards a person's empowerment.

But, just as the saying goes 'it takes a village to raise a child', programmes like Financial Education for Girls cannot be delivered in a vacuum. Plan International also works with the adults in the children's lives, engaging them in the determination to improve the prospects of girls.

"I want to achieve the best for the children in my school," says Ana Catarina - who is certainly a role model for the young girls she teaches. Helping them to better fulfil their potential and take advantage of economic opportunities is one way to do this.

Find out more about Plan International UK's work with Credit Suisse here.

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