Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Negotiating a Better Future - WAPPP Seminar Series

The Women:
Kathleen McGinn, Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School
Nava Ashraf, Associate Professor, Harvard Business School

The Talk: Negotiating a Better Future: Measuring the Impact of Negotiation Skills on Health and Social Outcomes in Zambia

The Question: Can teaching young girls negotiating skills impact their health and education?

Teaching girls negotiating skills may not just boost morale, it may also change lives. At least that’s what research from Harvard Business School is finding when it comes to young girls in Zambia making choices around pursuing education and making decisions around sexual behavior. While the study is ongoing, the research suggests that when girls are taught negotiation skills and techniques -- in addition to information about sexual behavior and education -- they are better equipped to influence their future.

The Numbers.

Currently 57 percent of adults living with HIV in Zambia are women; young girls have a higher prevalence of HIV compared to boys of the same age; and girls are less likely to be enrolled in school. This puts girls at an increased risk of early pregnancy, marriage, HIV infection, and lowered economic and social capital.

Plenty of research exists on the role of public health campaigns and educational programs to reduce HIV and prevent early pregnancy; yet, simply teaching safe sex practices may not be enough.

Why Not?

Teaching women and girls about condom use, reproductive health and the importance of education assumes one critical component -- women and girls have the agency to influence and make these decisions.

“Information is power, but not if you’re powerless,” says Kathleen McGinn. For example, negotiating sex or requesting money for education may not be areas where young girls can control the outcome. Patriarchal systems, social stigmas, male-favoritism -- a myriad of reasons -- means that having the information does not necessarily translate to gaining the desired results.

This is where the power of negotiation enters. When women and girls couple negotiation skills with knowledge, they may be more likely to effectively influence and persuade those in power, thus leading to better results. In terms of education and health, this could have an exponential impact for girls, families and communities. Furthermore, the World Health Organization recently cited both “negotiation skills for women” and “expanded efforts to keep girls in school” as two significant tools for women and girls to protect themselves from HIV. McGinn, Ashraf and Low appear to be reinforcing this recommendation.

While the trials are still ongoing, McGinn et al found that girls in their program reported positive impacts in both school and social environments. These included advocating for themselves, setting ambitious goals, and effectively communicating.

“There is great variation in how well individuals can take advantage of the information in front of them. That ability is a skill that we believe can be taught,” says McGinn.

*Photo courtesy of Nava Ashraf, taken by Kelsey Jack.

Melissa Sandgren is an MPP1 candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School and a participant in WAPPP's From Harvard Square to the Oval Office program.

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