Year of Graduation


Level of Access

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Department or Program


First Advisor

Nancy Riley

Second Advisor

Oyman Basaran


This thesis argues that international development programs focused on adolescent girls reproduce problematic and contradictory depictions of girls in the global South. Using Girl Effect marketing materials and interviews with INGO staff, I demonstrate that present-day international aid programs center on the neoliberal notion that an empowered adolescent girl holds the unique potential to end global poverty. Through empowerment programs, girls are encouraged to recognize their agency and take personal responsibility for improving the wellbeing of their communities. However, I argue that even as development leaders claim that an empowered adolescent girl is a source of indefatigable strength who can transform her community, they carry a deep conviction that such a feat is not possible without significant Western aid. Despite the empowerment rhetoric that The Girl Effect and related international initiatives espouse, their programs depict adolescent girls in the developing world as vulnerable and oppressed by poverty, local men, and their cultures. Thus, Western donors are called upon to save “Third World” adolescent girls. I argue that these contradictions in the language of international development contribute to the perception of girls in the global South as weak, inferior, and homogenous and lead to the establishment of programs that strengthen inequitable structures and sideline girls’ sexual rights.