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Empowered by Evidence

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“Women and adolescents are often underrepresented at the policy table.”
— Dr. Corrina Moucheraud

ADOLESCENCE IS A PIVOTAL MOMENT — a time when quality education, skill development and healthy behaviors can set young people on a favorable life trajectory. But Dr. Corrina Moucheraud, an assistant professor in the Fielding School’s Department of Health Policy and Management, points out that adolescence is also a period when social norms and policies can set girls and boys on divergent paths. “Early marriage and childbearing, as well as education and employment barriers or discrimination, can reduce empowerment for girls starting in adolescence, with implications on their future health and well-being,” Moucheraud says.

In research she conducts in low-income countries, Moucheraud provides evidence for how policies can protect vulnerable adolescent girls and women facing disadvantage or discrimination. She addresses these issues at both the macro level — for example, how global institutions can use health policies to promote equity — and the local level, by examining access to and quality of care for marginalized groups.

As part of a project funded by the World Bank, Moucheraud and her colleagues recently produced a series of policy briefs on four key areas of action that could impact the lives of adolescent girls and women in 15 countries across sub-Saharan Africa where early marriage and childbearing is common: keeping girls in school; equipping out-of-school girls with practical skills; promoting healthy behaviors, including around reproductive health; and addressing early-childhood development needs, especially for children born to adolescent mothers. The reports summarize global evidence on policies and programs that have achieved impact in each area. The researchers also interviewed policymakers and key stakeholders to understand their work and develop tailored recommendations. Alongside colleagues from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Moucheraud is also conducting research in Malawi on how to best deliver health services for women and adolescents, including cervical cancer screening programs and teen-friendly HIV treatment and care.

Elsewhere, Moucheraud is assessing the sustainability of programs and policies to improve infant and young-child feeding practices in Bangladesh and Vietnam. Alive & Thrive was a five-year, multi-country initiative that included interventions around interpersonal communication, policy change, community mobilization and mass media messages. Moucheraud is jointly leading an international group of researchers to evaluate which aspects of the initiative persisted after the program officially ended, and which factors promoted such sustainability. “As external support declines, particularly among countries whose economies have strengthened so they may no longer qualify for certain donor funding, it’s important to understand how systems can be set up to ensure that effective programs will continue after outside funding ends,” Moucheraud explains.

Through insights into how policies can maximize long-term impact, Moucheraud aims to assist countries in making the best use of limited resources. “Women and adolescents are often underrepresented at the policy table, which means their voices can’t influence priority-setting,” Moucheraud says. “I hope my research provides evidence to support policies that address the needs of women and girls. This is important not only for reasons of equity, but also because we know that such investments have far-reaching benefits for families, communities and countries.”