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Building an Economic Foundation for Girls in Southern Thailand

October 5, 2016

By Elizabeth Romanoff Silva

The High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, created by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in January 2016, convened alongside the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month where it released its first-ever report. The panel was created to place women’s economic empowerment at the top of the global agenda and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development specifically. The report emphasizes the economic hardships faced by the most disadvantaged women, which include the challenges of informal work and the burden of unpaid work and care, and the impact of discriminatory laws on women. The report’s message contributes to the global recognition that gender equality is essential for economic growth and sustainable development. As International Day of the Girl Child approaches on October 11, it’s important to look at what might be the most challenging part of achieving gender equality: addressing the disadvantages and discrimination borne early on by the world’s 1.1 billion girls.

Studies indicate that girls are more likely to find themselves in poverty with significantly fewer opportunities for their future than their male counterparts. Girls face unique challenges that limit their ability to access education, live a life free from violence, to delay marriage and pregnancy until adulthood, and to make the critical decisions that affect their lives. In Asia, girls in the lowest 20 percent income quintile and minority groups tend to be least able to access education, and have fewer job opportunities as a result. In East Asia and the Pacific, one in five girls marries before 18, while over half the girls in South Asia (56%) will be married before they turn 18, which usually translates to the end of their education. If gender equality is to be achieved, giving these girls the education and economic foundation they need to succeed is essential.

In Southern Thailand, with support from The Foundation’s Lotus Circle, The Asia Foundation is implementing the Aflateen program to build financial literacy and entrepreneurship skills among adolescent girls and young women who live in an environment of protracted conflict in Thailand’s southern border provinces. The curriculum is tailored specifically for the adolescent development phase, imparting financial literacy, instilling a community service ethos, and encouraging young people to question the world around them. Through work with our local partner, the Nusantara Foundation, we led a training of trainers in southern Thailand to increase the capacity of 24 female staff and one male staff member to deliver the Aflateen program. The trainers were nominated by local organizations dedicated to improving the lives of women and youth in southern Thailand, including several CSOs and government institutions such as the Office of Non-Formal Education. The Aflateen training program builds the capacity and confidence of young women whose economic prospects are otherwise limited by a sub-national conflict environment.

Aflateen program participants share business ideas during a training session.

Aflateen program participants share business ideas during a training session.

Our team in Thailand adjusted the Aflateen syllabus, working with local partners to develop a Thai language version of select chapters in the curriculum and contextualize it to the local context. So far, the program has reached 349 adolescent girls in the region. A second component of the program supported 43 young women entrepreneurs in Pattani and Yala Provinces to join a three-day entrepreneurship development and income generation program, followed by in-person mentorship over a two-month period. Participants learned how to uncover their entrepreneurship strengths and address weaknesses, as well as plan sales strategies for their own personal businesses to achieve success. Early evidence affirms that entrepreneurship training has brought positive results, with several participants reporting new business strategies and substantial increases in income.

Girls who participated in the Aflateen program reflected on its impact: one participant reported that she can now understand how disciplined saving can bring improvements to her family’s and her future quality of life, and that she plans to start saving. Another participant described how much better she knows her community and the issues that its faces.

As the global community mobilizes to achieve gender equality, projects of this kind will help give young women in southern Thailand and other challenging environments a stronger foundation to stand on.

Elizabeth Silva is a program officer for The Asia Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment Program in Washington, D.C. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.

Related locations: Thailand
Related programs: Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality
Related topics: Education, Women Entrepreneurs


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