Peace Corps Adolescent Girl Strategy Implementation Plan

March 15, 2016


When I visit with Peace Corps Volunteers in the field, I often meet the girls with whom they work—girls with big dreams and bright smiles, girls not so different from your daughters and mine. Yet all too often in their communities, the opportunity to pursue an education past primary school is a privilege for the lucky few, not a right for every girl. There is no other development investment that offers the long term inter-generational impact than educating a girl. When a girl’s potential is unleashed, she becomes a powerful catalyst for change in her family, community, nation and the world. Peace Corps Volunteers work every day to unleash and cultivate that potential. That’s why protecting and promoting the rights and abilities of girls—especially adolescent girls—is fundamental to everything we do.

–Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Director of the United States Peace Corps

PEACE CORPS’ COMMITMENT TO ADOLESCENT GIRLS

The Peace Corps holds girls’ education and empowerment to be central to just and equitable development. Educating girls and ensuring that they have unfettered access to the resources and opportunities they require to develop, grow, and emerge is both a moral imperative as well as a known development accelerator. Universal standards informing the Peace Corps’ approach to development specifically highlight the need to address matters concerning girls’ education and empowerment. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that access to education is a basic human right and Sustainable Development Goal 4 maintains the right for all to an inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities.

Added to this moral imperative is the growing evidence base that demonstrates the quantifiable development gains that come from educating girls and creating economic and civic opportunities for women. Educating girls and facilitating the development of the skills and capacities they need to emerge and succeed as fully functioning members of society is not just morally obligatory; it is also the foundation for good development.

The Peace Corps’ unique structure creates a rare space for engagement with girls and their communities. Peace Corps volunteers live and work in communities—often rural—in more than 60 countries around the world. They live in the same manner as the people served and because of their presence, they develop close, personal relationships of trust with their community. These relationships give them unique insight into both opportunities and constraints with regard to the education of adolescent girls, as well as the credibility needed to catalyze community-led change.

The Peace Corps recognizes that girls—especially adolescent girls—face challenges that are unique to their gender and that frequently interact in a multi-causal manner. Inequitable social norms such as lack of value placed on girls’ education and participation in the workforce, gender-based violence, child marriage, as well as perceptions around appropriate roles and responsibilities for boys and girls (both in the household and the broader community) often lay the foundation upon which girls’ exclusion is built.

Health challenges such as teen pregnancy, sexual and reproductive health issues, inadequate menstrual hygiene management resources, and poor nutrition compound girls’ efforts to emerge. Add to this, common structural barriers such as school-related violence, gaps in critical soft skills among girls, gender-inequitable school practices, and inadequately planned and supported transitions from school to employment, and participation in the workforce. Finally, poverty/economic instability, disability, ethnic or religious discrimination, limited linguistic ability, and/or HIV status render already marginalized girls exponentially more vulnerable.

Given these unique and often compounding challenges girls and young women face, the Peace Corps prioritizes working with girls using an inclusive, social-ecological approach. Peace Corps Volunteers work with girls, but also with their parents and caregivers, teachers, school administrators, community and religious leaders, counterparts, and local service providers to address constraints and obstacles and maximize opportunities. Since its inception, the Peace Corps has worked with girls and young women in myriad capacities, with girls serving as students and beneficiaries, as well as partners and counterparts. Peace Corps Volunteers have worked with adolescent girls through direct classroom teaching as well as through non-formal tutoring and mentoring opportunities. Volunteers in all programming sectors, from Education, Community Economic Development and Agriculture to Health and Youth in Development find opportunities to work with girls, affirm their worth, and build their capacity. This multi-disciplinary, “whole-of-girl” approach leverages the unique access and entry afforded to Peace Corps Volunteers, enabling the Peace Corps to address the challenges girls face in a sustainable, systemic manner.

With 55 years of experience working with adolescent girls and their circles of support, the Peace Corps is poised to scale up its most successful community-based solutions in an integrated manner. The following implementation plan presents a programmatic roadmap by which the Peace Corps is enhancing the work already done by Volunteers in communities and school systems.

OPERATIONAL STRUCTURE

Given that the challenges girls face are inherently multifaceted, the Peace Corps takes a multi-disciplinary approach to its girl-centered programming. Volunteers and staff in all programming areas (sectoral as well as geographic) are trained in gender analysis techniques as well as culturally relevant methods for promoting gender equity. This commitment to promoting gender equity as a shared value is reflected in the agency’s guiding policy documents as well as its organizational structure. The Peace Corps Act of 1961, the legislation creating the Peace Corps, was amended in 1978 to include the Percy Amendment (Peace Corps Act, section 2502 (d) ensuring that all Volunteers include women in their projects in order to improve women’s status and well-being. The Women in Development (WID) office was established in 1982 to ensure that the agency fulfills the mandate of the Percy Amendment. In 1991, the Peace Corps established a WID Policy to ensure that women have access to the skills and technologies offered in all Peace Corps program and training activities.

In 1994, the Peace Corps adopted a gender and development (GAD) approach and gender analysis, which are asset-based and address the needs of both women and men. In 1997, the Peace Corps released GAD resources and tools for Volunteers and staff such as the GAD Training Manual, Participatory Analysis for Community Action, and Community Content-Based Instruction. In 1999, the WID office formally changed to WID/GAD to reflect the inclusion of both approaches in the Peace Corps’ work and a Coordinator was appointed. The WID/GAD Coordinator is charged with supporting efforts to provide technical support to staff and Volunteers and ensuring that gender concerns are integrated throughout all projects and programs.

In 2012, WID/GAD was renamed the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GenEq) program to better reflect current trends in Peace Corps’ work. GenEq was established as one of the six Cross Sector Programming Priorities within the Peace Corps. Cross Sector Programming Priorities are ongoing, cross-sector areas of development in which Peace Corps seeks to maximize quality, quantity, and impact of Volunteer activities.

The GenEq Coordinator initiated a strategy to support the formation of a gender working group at headquarters and Points of Contact (POCs) in the field to promote communication and share promising practices. The role of the POCs is to serve as mentors and trainers in gender equity and analysis for their respective posts. Today, the Peace Corps promotes the use of a Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment approach to ensure that project activities address the needs of men, women, boys, and girls.

On March 3, 2015, Let Girls Learn, a whole-of-government initiative, was launched by the President and First Lady to address the challenges girls face in accessing education and completing secondary school. Peace Corps’ Let Girls Learn program is staffed by a program direction team as well as a technical support unit comprised of gender, training, and monitoring and evaluation specialists. These staff work in close collaboration with various sector specialists to ensure the program promotes evidence-based interventions that complement Peace Corps’ broader programming activities. This cross-sectoral team is responsible for developing programming resources and learning tools as well as implementation training for staff.

Gender Advisors are based in regional offices and each participating country program has a Let Girls Learn Coordinator to assist with program implementation, training, and reporting. The Peace Corps trains all Volunteers serving in participating Let Girls Learn country programs in gender theory and integration as well as in specific intervention methodologies. Coordination of the various aspects of program implementation is assured by the Let Girls Learn program direction team.

STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES

The Peace Corps is a volunteer-sending development agency, with a mandate for community-led development rather than policy formulation. As such, our contribution to the implementation of the U.S. Adolescent Girls Strategy will be through accentuating and mainstreaming girl-centered, gender-transformative approaches to community development. The Peace Corps will use the Let Girls Learn (LGL) program as its principal vehicle for implementing and supporting the U.S. Adolescent Girls Strategy. Let Girls Learn is an enhancement to current girl-centered programming at the Peace Corps. The value-added of Let Girls Learn is integrating evidence-based components into existing successful programs and activities and tailoring training so that staff, Volunteers, and community leaders are competent and motivated to promote these LGL-aligned core activities.

In supporting the U.S. Adolescent Girl Strategy, the Peace Corps’ goal is that: Adolescent girls and young women (ages 10–24) are educated and thrive in an enabling environment to live healthy and productive lives.

This strategy has three corresponding objectives:

Increase girls’ leadership and overall perceived sense of agency

Agency here is defined as “girls’ capacity to act and make informed choices in any given environment.” It reflects girls’ personal sense of empowerment and can be reflected in the development of soft skills or assets that research highlights are critical for success in education as well as in economic life.

Improve opportunities for girls to attain quality education

These opportunities are reflected in girls’ educational attainment (attendance, progression and completion), as well as employability. Recent findings by the Brookings Institution highlight specific elements of a quality education, including gender-equitable school practices, teacher training and support, links to critical health and support services, and meaningful community engagement, including parents and guardians. [1]

Increase community engagement in support of positive, gender-equitable norms that facilitate girls’ education and full participation in economic and community life

Engaging communities is essential for creating an enabling environment that champions girls’ success, in and out of school. Such engagement, including men, boys, parents, guardians, mentors, and leaders, facilitates positive dialogue around norms as well as action and advocacy in support of girls and young women.

To achieve this goal and related objectives, Let Girls Learn has three specific domains of intervention:

  • Individual girls;
  • Schools;
  • The community.

These domains are conventional areas of intervention for the Peace Corps and are areas where Volunteers can exert special influence. Volunteer primary assignments and core interventions occur in at least one of these domains.

Girls and young women are at the center of the Peace Corps’ implementation of the U.S. Adolescent Girls Strategy. The Peace Corps program builds on the resilience of girls, young women, and communities. The social-ecological model captures how social factors influence a girl’s education, health, and behavior. By strengthening opportunities and resources for girls and young women in these three levels (individual, school, and the wider community), the Peace Corps’ evidence-informed programming seeks to improve education and empowerment outcomes.

The Peace Corps will implement the U.S. Adolescent Girls Strategy using the Let Girls Learn program as its principal methodology for enhancing and mainstreaming support to adolescent girls. The program is organized in three pillars: empowering local leaders; community-led interventions; and increasing impact. Through actions and interventions in each of the pillars, the Peace Corps will achieve its program goals for Let Girls Learn.

Pillar One: Empowering Local Leaders

The Peace Corps’ theory of change is predicated on capacity and knowledge building as the foundation for sustainable change and development. As such, a major pillar of the Let Girls Learn program is training and skills building for Volunteers, staff, and community leaders in gender concepts, as well as key anchor activities that are proven to improve the lives of girls.

Volunteers serve for 27 months, working with communities and organizations to build capacity and achieve specific project objectives. Given the multiplicity of barriers to girls’ education and empowerment, all Volunteers have the opportunity and ability to contribute to the impact of Let Girls Learn, regardless of sector or assignment.

The enhanced training for Volunteers begins with on-boarding of new Volunteers at Staging (pre-departure orientation) events. Volunteers departing for countries participating in Let Girls Learn receive an additional day of training on foundational concepts in gender, identity, inter-cultural competency, and inclusion.

This foundation is built on and expanded during the 9–12 week pre-service training that occurs in-country, where the Volunteers receive training in language as well as the technical skills needed to achieve their assignment’s goals and objectives. For Education and Youth Development Volunteers, activities that align with the purpose and objectives of Let Girls Learn will be highlighted, ensuring that these Volunteers are able to use these evidence-based interventions in the course of carrying out their primary assignments.

Intensive trainings on Let Girls Learn-aligned activities will be organized by region and can incorporate both staff and Volunteers. Utilizing a cascading training approach, high-functioning Volunteer representatives and staff will come together for intensive technical training of trainers, promoting girls’ education and empowerment from a cross-sectoral, holistic perspective.

These Volunteers and staff serve as program multipliers, returning to their posts and organizing In-Service Trainings (ISTs) for other Volunteers, their counterparts, and community leaders. Through these ISTs, Volunteers receive technical training and assistance in possible activities they can undertake as secondary projects in support of girls’ education and empowerment. Community leaders receive high-quality training in the fundamentals of girls’ education and empowerment as well as in actual interventions they can undertake in their communities and local context. Through this cascade training model a network of engaged, enthusiastic Volunteers, staff, and community leaders is quickly formed and equipped to promote Let Girls Learn activities locally.

Pillar Two: Community-led Interventions

A second major component of the Peace Corps’ Let Girls Learn program is support for community-identified projects. Peace Corps Volunteers work with their communities to develop solutions that create an empowering environment for adolescent girls and young women. These activities are supported with a community contribution of 25 percent of the total cost of the project, often in-kind, as well as external funds and contributions collected from individual donors through a Peace Corps crowd funding mechanism called the Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP).

Volunteers submit their project proposal to Peace Corps headquarters, and after a thorough technical and financial review, the projects are posted on Peace Corps’ website to collect donations from individual donors and private sector organizations. This mechanism provides Peace Corps with an opportunity to raise awareness and engage the American public in taking action to improve the condition of girls globally. In addition, the Peace Corps created the Peace Corps Let Girls Learn Fund, which accepts gifts from individuals, private sector organizations, and philanthropic institutions for the purpose of funding Let Girls Learn PCPP volunteer projects.

Illustrative examples of Let Girls Learn PCPP volunteer projects include funding a girls’ GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) leadership camp, constructing latrines for girls at school, providing girls with STEM education and computer literacy training, or building a resource room for girls to study in a safe place. Projects with a focus on men and boys are also eligible for funding if there is an articulated, expected positive impact on the well-being of girls and young women. For example, a leadership camp for boys with sessions focusing on promoting gender awareness and transforming harmful gender norms.

Pillar Three: Increasing Impact

Finally, the Peace Corps is committed to increasing the impact of Let Girls Learn through several mechanisms. The first method involves growing the actual size of the program. Started with an initial group of 13 country programs, it is anticipated that the program will double in size each program year on an opt-in basis for country programs. This will result in more programs in more countries involving more Volunteers and their community leaders.

The second mechanism for growing impact is through creating and maintaining active communities of practice in our participating country programs. As Peace Corps programming, training, and evaluation staff play a critical role in supporting Volunteers in implementing LGL-aligned interventions and designing PCPP projects, the capacity of post staff will be intentionally built through strategic training. Let Girls Learn Gender Regional Advisors will form communities of practice with the Let Girls Learn Coordinators at posts and will offer annual capacity building trainings as well as continuous sharing of best practices. At the country level, Let Girls Learn Coordinators are encouraged to create communities of practice with other actors in the girls’ education and empowerment space where none currently exist. This will also deepen the impact of the Let Girls Learn program.

Through the activities of the Let Girls Learn program, the Peace Corps aims to build on a growing body of global evidence that supports community-driven solutions to promote adolescent girls’ education and equity. The Peace Corps is prioritizing evidence-based programming that is both feasible and appropriate to local contexts. Programs are routinely monitored and evaluated using a set of outcome indicators within and among all participating countries. A core set of indicators reflect internationally accepted milestones for achieving girls’ education, leadership, and community engagement. In addition to monitoring outcomes in all countries, select promising interventions are evaluated using rigorous designs in order to assess for impact and scale-up. This current effort demonstrates a commitment by Let Girls Learn programs to measure outcomes and impact and to ensure that programs are performing at a level of high quality.

STRATEGIC GOALS

The Peace Corps operates at the invitation of the countries served and has a commitment to creating and supporting programs that address the development priorities of the host governments. Through Let Girls Learn, the Peace Corps has been able to engage with host governments strategically regarding girls’ education and empowerment. To promote long-lasting sustainable improvements in the condition of girls, Peace Corps country programs convene local communities of practice, engaging local and national leaders in program design and management with a girl-centered lens.

Within the agency, the Peace Corps seeks the same degree of sustainable integration of enhanced gender awareness, mainstreaming evolving gender policy, and best practices into all programs and interventions, ensuring that gains for girls are not limited to “just” one initiative but are part and parcel of the Peace Corps.

GOAL 1) Mainstream and integrate girl-centered programming across sectors

Let Girls Learn-Aligned Anchor Activities

Peace Corps Volunteers are encouraged to undertake as many Let Girls Learn-aligned anchor activities as feasible, given their context and the needs presenting in their assignment. These are girl-focused activities commonly undertaken by Peace Corps Volunteers to which an evidence-based enhancement has been added. One example of an anchor activity is Promoting Menstrual Hygiene Management: working with girls to create reusable menstrual pads with the enhancement of incorporating teaching on youth sexual reproductive health. These anchor activities are found in all the sectors in which Peace Corps works (i.e., Promoting Financial Literacy with Girls, Promoting Digital Literacy, or Student-Friendly Schools) and are adolescent girl age- and stage-appropriate. Identifying cross-sectoral anchor activities and developing the supporting technical resources which add a gender-equitable component is a major method by which the Peace Corps is mainstreaming girl-centered programming.

Training

Peace Corps trains all new Volunteers in the basics of gender in development, building skills to work with counterparts to undertake a gender assessment of the community as part of each Volunteer’s community integration plan. Volunteers must demonstrate competency in gender integration in project design and management in order to be sworn in for service. Through Let Girls Learn, the Peace Corps is developing advanced gender training materials for both Volunteers and staff, further refining the knowledge and skills base for improved implementation and mainstreaming. Volunteers, counterparts, and community leaders as well as staff will participate in technical in-service trainings on specific anchor activities.

Goal 2) Measure results and sharpen program priorities

Country programs are routinely monitored and evaluated using a set of outcome indicators within and among all Let Girls Learn participating countries. A core set of indicators will reflect internationally accepted milestones for achieving girls’ education, leadership, and community engagement, with data disaggregated by sex and age. The Peace Corps also seeks to contribute to the ever-growing body of knowledge regarding successful community-led girls’ education and empowerment interventions. As such, select promising interventions will be evaluated using rigorous designs in order to assess for impact and scale-up. Through monitoring and evaluation, the Peace Corps will track implementation of girl-centered programming for program management purposes but also with an eye towards enriching the field of girls’ education and empowerment.

Goal 3) Expand collaboration and develop new partnerships

Recognizing that the issues that prevent girls from fully achieving their goals and aspirations are inter-related and complex, the Peace Corps embraces collaboration and partnerships as a way to enhance its adolescent girl programming and increase impact. Peace Corps will aim to expand collaboration with a wide range of development partners, from community of organizations at the field level; to businesses and corporations that provide valuable technical expertise or resources to implement volunteer projects; to foundations, non-profit organizations, academic institutions, and stakeholder organizations who share their knowledge and experience in designing and implementing programs benefiting girls; to service-oriented and volunteer-sending organizations that can enhance Peace Corps public outreach in support of Let Girls Learn.

A key goal of Let Girls Learn is to raise awareness and encourage the American public to take action in support of girls’ education and empowerment. This goal aligns with Peace Corps’ mandate to motivate American citizens to have a better understanding of other peoples and cultures, and presents an opportunity to work through Peace Corps’ World Wise Schools Program to engage the American public and seek new collaborations with educational institutions. Through World Wise Schools currently serving and returned Peace Corps Volunteers connect with local classrooms and domestic audiences to promote cross-cultural understanding of the communities Volunteers serve, as well as American communities abroad. The American public can also engage through the previously mentioned Let Girls Learn Fund and PCPP Program that support specific community-identified projects, sharing information about the issue or challenge to be addressed while offering them the opportunity to support through donations.


Endnotes

[1] Sperling, G. B. and R. Winthrop with C. Kwauk. (2015.) What Works in Girls Education: Evidence for the World’s Best Investment. Brookings Institution Press: Washington, D.C.