Grand Challenges is a family of initiatives fostering innovation to solve key global health and development problems. Each initiative is an experiment in the use of challenges to focus innovation on making an impact. Individual challenges address some of the same problems, but from differing perspectives.
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Denise Dunning of the Public Health Institute's Rise Up program's "Let Girls Lead" initiative in the US in collaboration with the Girls' Empowerment Network (GENET) of Malawi, and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) will develop and test a multi-armed approach to empower girls with information, leadership skills, and support networks to reduce the incidence of child marriage and associated harmful traditions in Southern Malawi. Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with half of all girls married by the age of 18. This has serious effects on gender equity, health, and education. They will enroll 800 girls aged 14-18 years from two districts in Southern Malawi and hold weekly workshops over six-months to provide education and skills training. This will be followed by community activities initiated by the girls themselves, such as forming girl clubs and engaging male members of their families and communities to help remove the social and cultural forces that lead to child marriage.
Léger Foyet of Population Services International in the U.S. along with the Organization to Advance Solutions in the Sahel (OASIS) and the High Commission of the Nigeriens Nourish Nigeriens agriculture initiative (HC3N) will improve gender equity, nutrition, and access to family planning in Niger. Niger has one of the highest levels of poverty and malnutrition. Women in Niger are usually married before the age of 16 and have on average around eight children. Men generally make the decisions on family planning, and there is limited access to contraceptives and healthcare. Non-governmental organizations have supported over 3,000 community gardens across Niger that use solar-powered drip irrigation for growing basic crops like beans. The gardens are tended daily by women, providing an opportunity to address gender inequality in a safe and supportive space. They will select up to 20 gardens to develop and test a package of successful interventions targeting both women and men including reproductive health counseling, identifying gender-based barriers to family planning, and engaging religious leaders to help overturn deep-seated social norms.
Kanigula Mubagwa of the Panzi Foundation in DR Congo will test whether providing resources that simultaneously improve nutrition, income, and social status can help women and girls getting out of prostitution in the cities of DR Congo successfully reintegrate into more rural societies. Prostitutes and their families suffer from high levels of poverty and malnutrition. Individual strategies to support them often provide only temporary solutions. To address this, they will combine a variety of tested interventions including providing agricultural training, nutritional education, and access to crops and equipment, and engage men and prominent local people to transform social norms. They will recruit ex-prostitutes from Salvation Army Centers to evaluate their approach for improving participants' knowledge and skills in agriculture, nutrition and health, and for promoting gender equality in their communities.
Poonam Muttreja of the Population Foundation of India will conduct a pilot project using entertainment via digital media as a form of education (edutainment) to change cultural and social norms underlying gender-based violence in India. They will recruit national celebrities to relay messages that motivate young girls to stand up against violence, and show boys that masculinity is not connected with violence. They will also produce six short films and an anthem condemning gender-based violence targeted to young people to be disseminated across various media channels over ten months. Their approach will be evaluated by measuring the changes in knowledge, attitudes, and perception of young people on gender-based violence.
Ranjan Kanti Panda of the Child in Need Institute in India in collaboration with the International Center for Research on Women, and Accenture for the "Couple Power" project, will evaluate their approach to motivate women between 15-24 years old to have their say in sexual and reproductive health decisions at home, thereby improving maternal and family health in India. The project will use digital technology and is designed to engage both men and women in couples and families to encourage equality within relationships. They will hold two four-day workshops for a group of 140 young couples across two districts to train them to act as role models and teachers for other couples in their communities to help change gender norms and roles. A digital application will be built to collect and analyze the data, and to track vulnerable couples.
Farhana Sultana of the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh will develop and test an approach to bring together all members of a community to improve the health of menstruating girls and motivate them to attend school. Many girls in low-income countries avoid going to school when they are on their period because of poor facilities, lack of sanitation products and support, and social marginalization, which severely affects overall academic performance. In Bangladesh, menstrual hygiene education is limited and generally targets 14-15 year olds, so most girls are unaware of what happens until they actually start their periods. They will test their approach with one-month trials at a range of schools by providing low-cost and safe products and disposal bins, and training and supporting teachers to educate all school children on adolescent health and the effects of puberty. They will also engage parents, school management committees, and local and regional governing bodies to maintain the facilities, and develop girl-friendly school policies.
Priya Nanda of the International Center for Research on Women in the U.S. will help young women in India secure decent employment and raise healthy families by giving adolescent girls access to relevant skills, resources, and connections, and engaging schoolboys and male community members to promote gender equality. They will recruit teachers to implement a specialized curriculum in schools, and connect with local businesses to create pathways to employment. Providing women with access to work should improve family health and income as well as promote economic growth and development.
Randeep Kaur from Room to Read in India will evaluate a program that teaches life skills, provides mentoring, and establishes community support to ensure girls complete secondary school education and can build healthier lives for themselves and their families. Life skills such as self-confidence and relationship building have recently been shown to boost adult economic outcome. Their Girls' Education Program will be tested in a randomized control trial with over 100 schools in Rajasthan, India, where there is a high incidence of child labor and relatively few girls enroll in school. They will evaluate its impact on academic output and development of life skills after one and two-years. They will also investigate how women who have previously participated in the program perceive its longer-term effects on their lives.
Cebile Manzini-Henwood of SWAGAA will partner with Together for Girls and Population Council to adapt the 'The Girl Roster' tool, which has been used effectively in diverse settings to identify the most vulnerable girls within a community, and to test and implement several innovative approaches to working with girls in Swaziland. For nearly a decade, SWAGAA has worked with Crossroads International to implement Girls' Empowerment Clubs in schools to help improve gender equality by strengthening girls' social assets and self-efficacy related to sexual behavior, violence and HIV. This grant will allow SWAGAA to strengthen this work by identifying and involving the most vulnerable girls within and outside of schools, to begin working with boys to engage them with gender equality and transformative social norms, and by establishing health and multisectoral referral networks that help girls to overcome common barriers to accessing post violence and sexual and reproductive health services. Ultimately, the project will generate evidence on reaching and working with girls who are often excluded from development interventions to enhance their empowerment, safety and well-being.
Hou Kroeun of the Cambodia office of Helen Keller International will evaluate the additional impact of promoting gender equality on households' food security and health. They will recruit households spanning 180 rural communities in Kampong Cham Province to evaluate the impact of a gender-transformative Enhanced Homestead Food Production intervention, which will provide agricultural training and resources through primary contact with the female head of household, as well as sessions addressing gender issues with all main-decision makers in the family. They will then test the impact of this women-centered approach on household food security and nutritional status.