The Girl Effect: A Product of the “Paradox of Care”

“The Girl Effect, n. The unique potential of 600 million adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves and the world” (girleffect.org).

The Girl Effect is an umbrella organization that seeks to give girls in development contexts the “opportunity” to live a “successful” life unencumbered by “early” pregnancy and disease by providing them the opportunity to receive an education. The Girl Effect’s main vehicle of communication is the Internet, where the website invites its audience to watch a short, succinct video documenting the plight of the Third World girl:

Although The Girl Effect has positive intentions, it presents a narrative that is representative of the “paradox of care.” The Girl Effect effectively strips Third World girls of their agency, and it instrumentalizes them in order to further neocolonial capitalist interests.

The Girl Effect is an example of Western Feminism’s “paradox of care” dilemma. Although this organization has feminist aspirations, which intend to be anti-oppressive, it relies on a masculinist, paternalistic approach as a way to “save” these Third World girls. The Girl Effect website presents a call to action for its audience: “You can be part of that change. In fact without you it won’t happen. Join the conversation and let the world know what the Girl Effect is capable of” (girleffect.org). The organization’s call to action relies on traditional “Western Feminist as savior” discourse. Chandra Mohanty in her classic essay, “Under Western Eyes,” writes about feminists who are “committed to improving the lives of women [and girls]  in ‘developing’ countries,” and how development “becomes the all-time equalizer.” Thus, girls are seen as being “affected positively or negatively by economic development policies, and this is the basis for cross-cultural comparison” (Mohanty 30). Although the feminists that Mohanty writes about have positive intentions, comparable to The Girl Effect, the inherent hegemonic connection between the First and Third World is ignored. The “paradox of care” is analogous to the “‘missionary position’ [which] constructs Third World women as the ‘objects of rescue’ of mainstream Western men or women” (Narayan 133). The “missionary position”/“paradox of care” is surrounded by misleading rhetoric—“help,” “responsibility,” “resources,” “rescue,” “need.” This effectively augments the paternalism inherent in these First/Third World interactions. This “western as savior” discourse effectively places third world girls as objects of their victim status rather than subjects with agency.

The Girl Effect relies on a totalizing discourse that presents Third World girls as a monolithic group that experiences identical oppressions and deniesthem of their agency. The Girl Effect website presents the notion that Third World girls “are at a crossroads,” and it effectively dichotomizes girlhood (girleffect.org). These girls are also presented as having no other option but to fail in light of these oppressions unless they are able to receive assistance (in the form of “opportunity”). The Girl Effect “colonize[s] the material and historical heterogeneities of the lives of women in the Third World, thereby producing/representing a composite, singular ‘Third World [Girl]’—an image that appears arbitrarily constructed but nevertheless carries with it the authorizing signature of Western humanist discourse” (Mohanty 19). The creation of this “composite, singular ‘Third World [Girl]’” effectively silences the individual voices of Third World girls and retells their story through the voice of the colonizer. This act effectively re-colonizes the Third World girls and denies them of any agency.

The Girl Effect instrumentalizes Third World girls, and it presents them as a tool to further neocolonial capitalist interests. The website presents two polar outcomes for a Third World girl, one being the “opportunity to raise the standard of living for herself and her family,” the other being stuck in the cycle of poverty with her family (girleffect.org). The Girl Effect not only positions the Third World girl as a vital tool to raise her family out of poverty, but it also presents the Third World girl as a tool for development of the Third World. The website informs the audience that, “ If [they] want to end poverty and help the developing world, the best thing [they] can do is invest time, energy, and funding into adolescent girls. It’s called the Girl Effect, because girls are uniquely capable of investing in their communities and making the world better” (girleffect.org). Not only does this call to action reinforce the “paradox of care,” it also presents these girls as the answer to development. Girls are then seen as part of an economic and social agenda—which rests on Western, neo-liberal, linear considerations of progress. This progress, or “modernity,” resides in globalized notions of consumption. These notions of consumption function in two ways: the first way considers the ability to consume as a beacon of development; the second way underscores consumption as a hallmark of the “paradox of care.” The “privileged” have the opportunity to aid these Third World girls through consumption (i.e. “text girleffect to a certain phone number and donate ten dollars, etc…”). Thus, the instrumentalization of these Third World girls furthers the neo-liberal notion of equating development with consumption.

The Girl Effect presents education as panacea. Education is seen as what prevents pregnancy, keeps girls safe from early marriage and contraction of HIV. Although education is important, the reasons that The Girl Effect presents create a noble façade—the real push for education is found within the neo-liberal view of progress and development. The Girl Effect data found on the website informs the viewer that, “An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school: 15 to 25 percent” (girleffect.org). The Girl Effect presents education as a way to prime Third World girls to become a part of the global consumerist economy. Mohanty writes,  “the increasing division of the world into consumers and producers has a profound effect on Third World women workers who are drawn into the international division of labor as workers” (176). Thus, most likely, these Third World girls will help build and grow the new globalizing economy through their own exploitation as low-wage workers. These girls will aid in the restructuring—the new world order—which can be characterized by “the hegemony of neo-liberalism, alongside the naturalization of capitalist values” (Mohanty 229). Not only does The Girl Effect present education as the opportunity for the girls themselves to participate in the new global economy, but it also presents Third World girls as a tool to a stronger economy for Third World countries. Thus, Third World countries have the opportunity to become part of the global capitalist economy but through the effective re-colonization of their economies.

Summarized:

The Girl Effect presents Third World girls as a monolithic group, devoid of agency, and it presents a narrative that is representative of the “paradox of care.” The organization also effectively instrumentalizes Third World girls in order to further neocolonial capitalist interests, consequently re-colonizing Third World girls. The re-colonization can be decoded as a push for low-wage workers and the inculcation of capitalist values. Although The Girl Effect has positive intentions, the effects are nonetheless harmful and can be read as a flawed product of Western Feminism.

Note:

Although my critique of the Girl Effect may be super harsh, I do believe it is important to note that this organization is recognizing girls as their own demographic that have the capacity to change things…So I give them that.

Here is another girl effect video:

Although I believe the Girl Effect and its rhetoric are problematic, do you think the message they are trying to communicate is important? Do we, as Americans, have a responsibility to “help” these third world girls? If you think so, is there a better way to get this message across? Is there a way to “help” without denying these girls their agency?

Sources:

Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. United States of America: Duke University Press, 2003. Print.

Narayan, Uma. Dislocating Cultures. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.

girleffect.org. The Girl Effect. n.p. n.d. Web. 6 Feb. 2012.

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3 thoughts on “The Girl Effect: A Product of the “Paradox of Care”

  1. valopez says:

    This is a very nice piece. You bring up some good points. In response to your last question, I think we can effect change for girls if we include their voices in interventions designed to better their lives. In other words, I would advocate working with girls in third world countries to identify their needs and co-develop interventions that are both culturally and gender responsive. Just curious: What do you think of Oprah’s school? I don’t know too much about it.

  2. Nick says:

    Anastasia, thank you very much for your post. You bring up some very interesting points – especially if us Westerners understand well what it means to provide help. I do believe that developed countries have a responsibility to participate in projects that improve the quality of life in developing countries. The question, which you raised in your post (and which can be generalized beyond helping just girls), is of how to help without imposing our own worldviews? In other words, how do we help without neglecting the uniqueness of the persons and cultures in the developing world? The book “The power of positive Deviance” (2010) by Pascale, Seterning and Sterning gives some ideas. It shows how Western professors looked for local solutions in developing countries. What they saw was that even in the midsts of serious problems such as malnutrition and sexual abuse of children, there were always some local residents, whose ideas – when they spread – seriously increased the people’s agency to deal with these problems.
    On a different note: I was wondering, in what ways is the approach to “to ‘save’ these Third World girls” masculinist, paternalistic? Thanks 🙂

  3. Martha says:

    comment on girl effect. I really like your blog on the girl effect. I agree that it sets underdeveloped and overdeveloped nations in a binary relationship of “savior” and “rescuers”. From my past work in social services i have heard young girls tell my agency that they will not accept help from us because the last time we “helped” the situation for them got worse. This comment from a young girl reminded me that when we do impose our notions of helping it does not alway have the results we hoped. I agree with our lost boy speaker from Sudan when he stated that the help they recieved in food at the refugee camp was not a long term solution for helping them. He said it did not help them dig a well instead it just gave them a handout. I think that it goes back to the saying about teaching a man to fish and he has a meal everyday as opposed to giving him a handout. I am not sure what this would look like in practice but we need to at least try to get input from the girls too.

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