Girls’ Power, Girls Connect, Girls Matter

  • Strengthening programs to develop girls’ personal and social power.
  • Enhancing the connections among girls and women's organizations thus spinning off a young women’s movement.
  • Promoting the visibility of girls’ issues and increased funding for girls' programs.

We believe that women’s empowerment is central for achieving long-term sustainable development. Unfortunately, it has rarely been the primary focus of development programs.

The long-term goal of the Girls Empowerment Initiative at the Pacific Institute for Women’s Health is to catalyze a new generation of empowered women who will become actors for social change. We believe that working with adolescent girls is the most effective and efficient strategy to achieve this. By adolescence, girls are able to think critically and have also begun to experience the restrictions of gender-based discrimination and limitations in their daily lives. They are struggling to cope with those limitations, and eager to see their gut feelings acknowledged, whether they are about discrimination and its effects on them, or how wrong and unfair social norms are. Girls are hoping to find mentors and role models that can help them find alternatives, and that can inspire them in choosing to fight for their rights. They typically embrace the opportunity to become agents of change in their own lives and in their societies.

Empowerment refers to the expansion in one’s ability to make strategic life choices and the results of actually doing so.
[i] Therefore, to be empowered a woman must have and use personal agency. Our work focuses on integrating specific mechanisms to develop and reinforce personal and social agency into programs for girls. While specific program components may vary, core components include:

  • Health and Security
  • Leadership, Voice and Rights
  • Social Mobility
  • Education
  • Economic Opportunity

Our work on girl’ empowerment seeks to:

  • Develop, pilot, document and evaluate new empowerment methodologies and curricula, which incorporate and assess a set of core programmatic elements;
  • Increase the capacity of social-change organizations to conduct programs that empower girls, including strengthening their curriculum development and training skills;
  • Challenge the status quo image of girls as sex objects and develop a positive image of empowered girls.
  • Increase the ability of the participants to document their experiences and use them for advocacy.

We seek to show policymakers the importance and feasibility of girls’ empowerment programs, and how gender equality can be addressed on the ground. By carefully documenting and evaluating the process used on the ground, we ensure that program activities can be replicated, adapted and further developed by other partners, and eventually scaled up.

[i] Naila Kabeer, 2001.

Teen-Focused Emergency Contraception Media Campaign in Los Angeles

New Bilingual Campaign is Reaching Latino and African American Youth
with EC Information

Los Angeles, CA – For young people seeking a way to prevent unintended pregnancy, today Pharmacy Access Partnership and the Pacific Institute of Women’s Health launched a bilingual (English/Spanish) print media campaign in Los Angeles, CA, designed to raise Latina and African American adolescents’ awareness of and access to emergency contraception (EC) in pharmacies. Los Angeles County has among the highest teen birth rates and lowest levels of EC awareness in California: 41.2 births per 1,000, higher than the statewide rate of 39.5 per 1,000. Moreover, birthrates among Latina and African American teens are even higher than the state or county average.

The concept for the post cards, below in English, was based on research showing that young women of color want more information about EC and where to get confidential, respectful EC services. The cards will be distributed first in Los Angeles schools, pharmacies, hair salons and cafes/restaurants, then across the state and nationwide.

“The August 2006 FDA decision to make Plan B available over-the-counter (OTC) for consumers 18 and older was a step in the right direction. However, women 17 and younger and those without proof of age still require a prescription for Plan B,” said Pharmacy Access Partnership Executive Director Belle Taylor-McGhee and Pacific Institute for Women’s Health Executive Director Magaly Marques in a joint statement. “This new campaign will bring increased awareness about where and how to access EC to the young people left behind by the FDA.” In California and eight other states (AK, HI, MA, ME, NH, NM, VT, WA), women of any age can also obtain Plan B directly from specially trained pharmacists without an advance prescription. For more information, visit and

Victory in Mexico

Finally, an unprecedented victory in reproductive rights!
Last week, the second largest catholic country approved women’s right to safe abortion during the first 12 weeks. April 24, a great day for Mexican women, especially in the capital city where congress approved with 46 votes in favor, 19 against, and one abstention substantial changes in four articles of the Penal Code and two in the Health Law allowing women to have abortions if they so wish in Mexico City during the first trimester of pregnancy.
The major legal change in the abortion scenario involves article 144 of the Penal Code in which abortion is legally defined as a demeanor only after 12 weeks of gestation when it becomes punishable. After 12 weeks, as established in Article 145 of the Penal Code, women who have an abortion will be subjected to three to six months of in prison or 100 to 300 hours of community work, as opposed to three years of detention as previously stated.
At the same time, the new local Health Law determines that in the Federal District, women have the right to seek abortion and the government must respond to their request through the public health system. The law also establishes that it is the government’s responsibility to promote comprehensive health policies that facilitate the exercise by women and men of their reproductive rights. In addition, the public health system is called to provide medical and social counseling in sexual and reproductive health, including, but not limited to, support to women who want to interrupt their pregnancies.
As described by advocacy organizations in Mexico City, after five months of discussions, and of well orchestrated demonstrations on the part of civil society, the vote took place in congress and the result reflected the position of Mexican women. As described by Perla Vazquez and colleagues of Elige – Red de J√≥venes por los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos, “After months of marches, vigils, media outreach, debates, and headaches due to the meddling of the Catholic church, and exhaustion, … what followed last week in the capital city was a historical event, and on April 26 the new approved law was published and made official.”
This victory in Mexico City reflects not only the mobilization of the women’s health and rights movement, and of progressive civil society initiatives to shape the debate and involve the mainstream media in it, but also the activism of youth groups such as Elige and DECIDIR. Elige (Elect in Spanish) and DECIDIR (Decide in Spanish) have coordinated to respond to the communication media promptly and systematically during the five months of public debate about the decriminalization of abortion in Mexico.
The advocacy efforts succeeded in push back the catholic church’s attempt to monopolize the debate, and manager to keep the population well. The fight, as illustrate by DECIDIR’s campaign with the image of the “free fighter” as a woman who doesn’t give up, ended with the victory of the lay society.