Decolonial and feminist scholars have long pointed out that theory and praxis in global health and gender and development employ models of gender and social change that are Euro-North-American-centric and fit poorly with cultural realities and community dynamics in the global South. Interventions informed by these biases are often minimally effective and can cause backlash or resistance. In this paper, we unpack how coloniality informs some of the dominant approaches used by major organisations to improve the health and well-being of adolescent girls, and why they can result in ineffective and sometimes harmful interventions. The limitations of these approaches include top-down imposed objectives and pathways to change; individualist, sexist, ageist, and modernist biases; and ignorance or denigration of local cultural values, resources, and family and community dynamics. Instead, we present the Girls’ Holistic Development (GHD) programme – implemented by NGO The Grandmother Project – Change Through Culture (GMP) in Senegal since 2009 – as a decolonial alternative. The GHD is informed by theories and methodologies from participatory and community development; anthropology; family and community systems theory; community, cultural, and Indigenous psychology; and transformative learning/adult education. Results show that GMP has contributed to shifting social norms underpinning child and forced marriage, female genital cutting, adolescent pregnancy, and premature school-leaving because its approach offers an alternative decolonial vision of, and method of achieving, adolescent girls’ development. The key facets of this approach are that it is culturally affirming, inter-generational, grandmother-inclusive, assets-based, and rooted in building community capacity and consensus for change towards locally defined objectives.
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