Girl Branded: Nike, the UN and the Construction of the Entrepreneurial Adolescent Girl Subject




Hengeveld, Maria

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The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice


With the rise of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and philanthro-capitalism since the early 2000s, transnational corporations (TNCs) have come to play a prominent role in international policy debates on sustainable development and human rights. A key feature of the growing corporate interest in poverty reduction is its faith in feminist ideas as tools for change. Spearheaded by the ‘Girl Effect’ campaign of athletic apparel giant Nike (since 2008), development institutions and aid agencies have largely embraced the idea that ‘rebranding girls’ in the Global South as untapped market potential and training them as self-confident, entrepreneurial market actors represents the key to solving poverty. In an attempt to gauge the growing influence of TNCs on development policy, this article analyzes the principles and the actual effects of the Girl Effect and compares it with Nike’s own interests as a corporation built on women’s labor. It argues that contrary to freeing girls’ potential, the Girl Effect project capitalizes on patriarchy to depoliticize poverty and inequality. Far from empowering women or supporting the poor, Nike’s rebranding project is an attempt to discipline girls, and the NGOs that represent them, into behaviors that support the status quo, distract from corporations’ misbehavior and expand the power of the market.



Winner, Audre Rapoport Prize for Scholarship on Gender and Human Rights (2015). Maria Hengeveld is a researcher and journalist who writes about inequality, gender, globalization and corporations. This paper is based on the M.A thesis she wrote as a Fulbright Fellow in human rights at Columbia University in 2015. Earlier this year, Hengeveld conducted a research project in Vietnam, funded by the 2015 IF Stone Award from The Nation Institute for Investigative Reporting, to test the Girl Effect standards in Nike’s own factories. There, she interviewed 18 women who work for Nike about the factory and living conditions they face. To read more of Hengeveld’s work, she blogs at Africa is a Country and tweets @HengeveldMaria.

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