Safety for adolescent girls

Adolescent girls aged between 10 and 19 constitute one of the most at-risk groups in emergencies, due to their physical development and age. These factors can lead to higher levels of sexual violence such as rape, sexual exploitation, early or forced marriage and unintended pregnancy. During crises, weakened institutions, poverty and financial hardship leave girls especially vulnerable to multiple forms of sexual and gender-based violence, and to resorting to risky livelihoods. Adolescent girls may be forced to assume roles and responsibilities that restrict their mobility and visibility, increasing their isolation and breaking bonds with their peers and with other social networks. Girls may also have limited access to adolescent-friendly information and services, including health services, protection and education.

To read about SGBV prevention included as part of a wider programme, click the picture below:

Burundi Education Project, FH

When should we use a programme promoting safety for adolescent girls?

  • At any phase of an emergency
  • Where practices such as early or forced marriage, or trafficking may be happening
  • Where families are struggling to meet their basic needs or find work
  • Especially in displacement situations
  • Where children have been separated from parents or caregivers

Elements that could make up a programme promoting safety for adolescent girls:

Safe Spaces for adolescent girls

In order to deliver a programme for adolescent girls, it is important to identify a space where girls feel safe and are able to access without being put in danger. This may be an existing community space. It should be a place that is considered safe and appropriate by the girls as well as their parents or caregivers. The space should be for girls only – create a place and time for them to meet without males present. Engage girls in programme design, implementation and evaluation.

Even during the acute phase of an emergency, engaging adolescent girls to identify where and when they might feel safe interacting with their peers without fear of abuse, exploitation or violence can provide immediate protective effects against girls’ experiencing violence and also establishes an environment that can more substantively contribute to their safety and well-being.


Building social networks

Due to girls’ social isolation, simply creating a space where a group of girls, around the same age and from the same community, can meet regularly, build relationships and begin to trust and share with each other, can be a critical component of the programme structure. Relatively easy to do, it just means that you create regular opportunities for girls to meet with the same girls. These social networks are critical, as girls with stronger social networks are less likely to be victims of sexual harassment and violence.

Peer support

Facilitating peer support for girls has proved to be a successful strategy for adolescent girl programming. Peer support can be between just two girls or may be a small group. The formation of pairs or small groups (three to four girls) should be done jointly by the girls and facilitator. The girls should be encouraged to pick their own group, with support and guidance, and to pick other girls who are not necessarily their best friend(s). The group mates should be of similar age and live near to each other. The girls should be encouraged to mix skill levels within their groups i.e. mix someone who is strong in reading and writing with someone who is not.


Women aged 18–35 from the same community as the girls can provide mentoring. It is the age-specific delivery of information, services and skills that mentors deliver in the safe physical space that can be key to building girls’ transformative resilience to violence.

Addressing sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and harmful practices

Strategies to prevent SGBV will need to be developed within your programme, and based on the specific risks identified by girls. You can also include training sessions on SGBV, so that girls are aware of the different kinds of gender based violence, what their rights are, what is and is not considered appropriate behaviour, and what to do in the case that they, or a friend or relative is a victim of SGBV. Be prepared with information about where girls can go for assistance when they come to you reporting that they have been victims of an incidence of SGBV.

An example of a 12-week curriculum for adolescent girls is:  IRC, My Safety, My Wellbeing: Equipping Adolescent Girls

Life-skills training and asset-building

Use the safe space sessions to deliver structured content such as nonformal education, life skills, financial literacy and sexual and reproductive health messages. Given the diversity of adolescent girls as a group—their birth order, marital status, family support systems, among others—involvement in curriculum design helps to ensure relevance. Make sure the skills and assets girls acquire don’t put them at risk. New ideas and information can upset traditional values on what girls need to be able to do or know, and desirable commodities such as mobile phones can put girls at risk of violence.

  • Asset-building – Go through the process of thinking about which assets the girls you work with need, by what age, and which ones your programme can help to build. Think about, and then implement accordingly, the order in which different assets should be built and how that translates into the order of programme activities.
  • Vocational training –  providing girls with a skill in a certain field of employment such as computer skills, web design, tailoring, carpentry, counselling, hairdressing, car mechanics. Providing vocational training is a very time- and resource-intensive venture because it requires equipment, trainers who are skilled in the profession, space, and more.
  • Economic strengthening – teaching girls how to budget, opening savings accounts, helping with business development, setting up savings groups
  • Financial Education focusing on concepts of money and how to manage it well. It teaches knowledge, skills and attitudes that girls can use to adopt good money management practices, make decisions about earning, saving, spending and borrowing money and the use of financial services, and set financial goals, budget money, track expenses, and save for the future
  • Other non-formal education activities or curriculums on life skills and dealing with specific issues identified by the girls

Promoting access to adolescent-friendly sexual and reproductive health services

  • Health education – including sexual and reproductive health issues
  • Support girls to access healthcare by identifying and partnering local clinics
Engaging the community

Implementing programmes in isolation of the wider community often leads to resentment, tensions between girls who are feeling more empowered and aware of their rights and potential, and their families, who resist this, or other community members who, in some cases, may be violent towards them. There are a range of exercises that can be used to raise awareness on the programmes and how girls can be kept safe whilst participating. Discussing programmes and safety with community leaders and then asking them to communicate with the wider community is a good way to facilitate agreement and community ownership of the programme.

Additional tools and guidelines

Information on this page is primarily taken from:

Additional tools and resources on programmes promoting safety for adolescent girls and preventing and responding to sexual violence are here

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