Over the past ten years, ‘The Girl Effect’–the discourse and practice of investing in third world girls’ education—has ascended to the top of the international development agenda as the ‘highest return investment strategy’ to end poverty. This paper interrogates the trend by investigating the genealogy of ‘The Girl Effect’ as The Nike Foundation’s flagship corporate social responsibility campaign and the theory of change it is based on. A literature analysis of The Nike Foundation’s most recent intervention projects—“The Girl Effect Accelerator” and ‘Girl Hub’ pilot projects in Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Rwanda—will elucidate the underlying investment logic and serve as a representative sample of the broader emerging practice. While claiming to advance “gender equality” and “women’s empowerment”, I argue that The Girl Effect accomplishes the opposite by reinforcing gender inequity on both the micro and macro levels. Feminist grammars are instrumentalized as window dressing to exploit third world females as prospective (1) debtors in the expansion of credit markets, (2) exploits in the expansion of consumer markets, and (3) the ‘untapped resource’ for cheap labor. An epochal look at second wave feminism will show how ‘The Girl Effect Paradigm’ is a second wave of neoliberal exploitation—a parallel of its first female-led development era (1980s-1990s). This paper warns that as this phenomenon grows in hegemony it is insidiously displacing feminism as a political project and neutralizing the need for a truly transformational agenda. Without a counterbalance of vigilant public scrutiny and debate, we risk letting it crystallize Western- patriarchal-capitalism even more deeply in an unyielding global glass ceiling.
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