This paper considers the compelling intersections of gender, age, and nation in human rights and development discourse aimed at empowering girls in the global South. We show how the concepts of vulnerability and precarity travel transnationally via development discourse and trouble the prominent deployment of adolescent female exceptionalism as the “key” to eradicating global poverty and realizing girls’ human rights. It is our contention that even as adolescent girls are today hypervisible as ideal subjects of neoliberal development, they are also illegible as normative subjects of human rights. Based on our experiences as scholars, activists, and artists in Sub-Saharan Africa and the halls of the United Nations, we examine how Kenyan, Ethiopian, and North American girls experience local and transnational expectations animated by the “turn to the girl” for development with differential and sometimes (dis)empowering effects. We ask, What does it mean when members of the world’s “most vulnerable” population are also positioned as the “saviors of humanity”? What does it mean for girls’ rights policy? What about for girls themselves? Taken together, our work suggests girls’ (in)visibility requires feminists working in transnational spaces to recalibrate our politics and epistemologies.


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pp. 33-59
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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