Negotiating a better future: The impact of teaching negotiation skills on girls’ health and educational outcomes (Pilot)

Project Active from to Firms and Entrepreneurship

The formation of human capital lies at the core of individual well-being and national economic development; it is intricately tied to overcoming the global health challenges (such as high rates of malnutrition, maternal mortality, and HIV/AIDS prevalence) that constrain economic growth in developing nations.  A large variety of development interventions thus target increasing primary education, yet support for secondary schooling – which is essential to help largely informal economies transition to ones which can support a skilled work force – has lagged behind.  Standard resource-based interventions often do not address the underlying structural and social barriers.  This project steps away from such models and asks, given an existing pool of household resources, how can Zambian girls themselves become agents of change to stay in school, delay pregnancy, protect themselves from HIV/AIDS, and build more supportive relationships with people in their lives?

School girls in Zambia are like most girls around the world – they can be shy or outgoing, they study their lessons, they look after siblings, they play silly games, and they dream of becoming doctors, journalists, and even government ministers.  Yet severe constraints threaten their ability to achieve these futures, or even complete their education.  In their early teen years, girls in Zambia begin dropping out of school at a rate 3 times higher than boys, a trend exacerbated by the commencement of fee payments in secondary school.  Not completing an education often leaves girls without the skills or resources to support themselves, and thereby highly susceptible to marrying early, having to rely on male partners for resources, or even engaging in transactional sex.

Furthermore, power imbalances in girls’ relationships with boys and men often leave them in positions that put their happiness and health at risk, evidenced by the prevalence of early marriage and the two-to-one ratio of HIV rates among young women versus their male counterparts.

Why negotiation?

In 2009, the World Health Organization named “negotiation skills for women” and “expanded efforts to keep girls in school” as critical tools for reducing HIV rates among women in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Similarly, a 2000 report by the Zambian Ministry of Education concluded that HIV/AIDS campaigns should include negotiation and communication skills in addition to information.  Our model tackles this challenge of training Zambian girls in the communication skills needed to negotiate health and education decisions with power figures in their lives.

We have developed a unique negotiation curriculum for Zambian secondary school girls, based on the latest in negotiation scholarship, extensive feedback and input from local partners, and two years of iterative piloting in Zambia.  The mantra “Me-You-Together-Build” underlies our model, outlining a strategy of talking to solve problems in a way that leaves both people better off.   Using the rigorous randomized-control-trial method, we specifically test the value of negotiation skills training (taught by Zambian female mentors) on top of two common components of youth empowerment programs, social capital and information provision, to determine the potential role of negotiation in providing a better future for both Zambian girls and Zambia itself.