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Adolescent well-being in Jordan: Exploring gendered capabilities, contexts and change strategies - A synthesis report on GAGE Jordan baseline findings

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By Jones, N., Baird, S., Presler-Marshall, E., Małachowska, A., Kilburn, K., Abu Hamad, B., Essaid, A., Amaireh, W., Sajdi, J., Banioweda, K., Alabbadi, T., Alheiwidi, S., Ashareef, Q., Altal, S., Kharabsheh, W., Abu Taleb, H., Abu Azzam, M. and Abu Hammad, B.


Situated at the crossroads of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Jordan has a long history of hosting the region’s refugees. Beginning with Palestine refugees in 1948, followed by Iraqi refugees in the 1990s and, since 2011, accepting hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing both drought and civil war, it is estimated that of Jordan’s approximately 10 million inhabitants, 1 in 3 is a refugee. Of those, more than 2 million are Palestinian (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), 2019b), just over 660,000 are Syrian, and nearly 100,000 are from Iraq, Yemen and Sudan (UNHCR, 2019). While the country is ranked ‘high’ in terms of human development (United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2019), Jordan has faced significant economic and social challenges in seeking to absorb its large refugee population. Its public schools, many of which are running double-shift, cannot meet demand and the country faces severe and escalating water shortages. The labour market is also struggling to keep up with the burgeoning population. It is estimated that the real unemployment rate is twice that of the officially reported rate of 15% (CIA World Factbook, 2019; World Bank, 2019b).

Jordan’s refugee populations are especially vulnerable. While most Palestine refugees have been granted full citizenship, which affords them the same rights and services as other Jordanian citizens, the nearly 20% who remain living in refugee camps (especially those originally from Gaza) are legally barred from doing many types of work, which means they have a poverty rate approaching one-third (31%) (Tiltnes and Zhang, 2013; Palestinian Return Centre, 2018). Jordan’s Syrian refugees – of whom approximately 85% live in urban host communities and 15% live in one of two formal camps – are in many ways even more vulnerable, despite assistance from the international community. Approximately 85% live below the Jordanian poverty line (UNHCR, 2018).

Girls and women face additional gender-related barriers, due to social norms and laws that position them as second-class citizens. The Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranks Jordan as ‘very high’ in terms of gender inequality, and notes that women’s rights within the family and access to civil liberties are particularly limited (OECD, 2019b). The World Bank (2019b) reports that women’s labour force participation rates in Jordan are among the lowest in the world, while the World Economic Forum (WEF, 2018) notes that Jordan’s ranking in terms of women’s economic opportunity has dropped significantly – from 105th to 144th– in the past decade.

This report draws on baseline evidence from GAGE (Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence) – a unique longitudinal mixed-methods research and impact evaluation study focused on what works to support the development of adolescents’ capabilities during the second decade of life (10–19 years). Recognising that the transformations that take place during adolescence are second only to those experienced in infancy and early childhood in terms of their scope and speed, and that the current generation of adolescents (1.2 billion) is the largest ever, the development community is increasingly focused on how to capitalise on the window of opportunity that is adolescence, to reap a triple dividend: for adolescents today, for their adult trajectories, and for their children.

GAGE brings to this global movement a focus on gender. Our starting point is that adolescent transitions often shape lives in highly gendered ways, due to the prevailing norms of socio-cultural environments. These norms – especially around sexuality – start to become more rigidly enforced and more consequential in early adolescence, forcing girls’ and boys’ trajectories to diverge as they approach adulthood. Understanding this divergence, and tailoring programme interventions accordingly, is critical if we are to fast-track social change.

Drawing on GAGE’s mixed-methods research in Jordan, this report synthesises findings about adolescent girls’ and boys’ capabilities across six key domains: (1) education and learning; (2) health, nutrition, and sexual and reproductive health (SRH); (3) bodily integrity and freedom from violence; (4) psychosocial well-being; (5) voice and agency; and (6) economic empowerment. It concludes with policy and programming implications viewed through a multidimensional capability lens.

GAGE framing and methods

Conceptual framing

GAGE’s conceptual framework takes a holistic approach that pays careful attention to the interconnectedness of what we call ‘the 3 Cs’ – capabilities, contexts, and change strategies – to understand what works to support adolescent girls’ and boys’ development and empowerment, now and in the future (see Figure 1). This framing draws on the three components of Pawson and Tilley’s (1997) approach to evaluation, which highlights the importance of outcomes, causal mechanisms and contexts. However, we tailor that approach to the specific challenges of understanding what works in improving adolescent girls’ and boys’ capabilities.

The first building block of our conceptual framework is capability outcomes. Championed originally by Amartya Sen (1984; 2004), and nuanced to better capture complex gender dynamics at intra-household and societal levels by Martha Nussbaum (2011) and Naila Kabeer (2003), the capabilities approach has evolved as a broad normative framework exploring the kinds of assets (economic, human, political, emotional and social) that expand the capacity of individuals to achieve valued ways of ‘doing and being’. Importantly, the approach can encompass relevant investments in girls and boys with diverse trajectories, including the most marginalised and ‘hardest to reach’, such as those who have a disability or girls who are already mothers.

The second building block of our conceptual framework is context. Our 3 Cs framework situates girls and boys ecologically, recognising that their capability outcomes are highly dependent on family or household, community, state and global contexts.

The third and final building block of our conceptual framework acknowledges that girls’ and boys’ contextual realities can be mediated by a range of change strategies, including: empowering individual adolescents; supporting parents; engaging with men and boys on gender inequalities; sensitising community leaders; enhancing adolescent-responsive services; and addressing system-level deficits.

Research questions

Stemming from our conceptual framework, there are three sets of questions that are central to GAGE’s research.
They focus on:

  1. adolescent experiences and the ways in which these are gendered and also differ according to adolescents’ economic, social and geographical positioning;

  2. the ways in which programmes and services address adolescent vulnerabilities and support the development of their full capabilities; and

  3. the strengths and weaknesses of programme design and implementation in terms of ensuring programme efficacy, scale and sustainability.

At baseline, we are focusing on the first two questions. We will explore the third question in more detail during subsequent rounds of research currently scheduled for 2019/2020 and 2021/2022.

Research sample and methodology

GAGE is using both quantitative and qualitative methods to explore these research questions. Our baseline data was collected between mid-2018 and early 2019 and included a survey of nearly 4,000 adolescents and their caregivers. We also conducted in-depth individual interviews with 240 young people and their caregivers, held focus group discussions with adolescents, with parents and with community leaders, and conducted key informant interviews with service providers, governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders.

Research sample overview

GAGE research sites were informed by two complementary considerations: (1) a review of existing data and evidence on adolescents and gender in Jordan, which highlighted where the evidence base is especially thin (see Presler-Marshall et al., 2017; Presler-Marshall, 2018); and (2) the design of UNICEF Jordan’s integrated adolescent and youth programme for vulnerable girls and boys, through which we are exploring questions related to change strategies (as per the GAGE conceptual framework) and how they shape the development trajectories of adolescents from refugee and host communities alike.

GAGE is working in five governorates in Jordan – Amman, Mafraq, Irbid, Zarqa and Jerash – where most of the Syrian refugee population live. In order to explore the complexity of adolescent realities in refugee and host communities, we spread our sample across three very different contexts: host communities , informal tented settlements (ITSs), and United Nations (UN) refugee camps (see map in Annex 1). Recognising that recent attention has been focused on the Syrian population, and that Jordan’s Palestinian population is increasingly invisible to development actors, we have also included the ex-Gazan Palestinian population in Jerash refugee camp, which has high rates of child marriage and is particularly disadvantaged economically and socially due to residents lacking national identity documents.

To understand the effects of UNICEF’s programming – especially its Makani centres (see Annex 2) – it was important that our sample included participants and non-participants. For participants, we were able to select adolescents using data from UNICEF’s Bayantati (Our Data) database. For non-participants, we undertook a twostep process. In host communities, to minimise differences between the participant and non-participant sample, we selected adolescents whose families were either receiving UNICEF’s Hajati cash transfer for vulnerable households, or those who were eligible but due to resource constraints were still on the waiting list (as of mid-2018). In the camps, because there is no equivalent cash transfer programme, we relied on the Refugee Assistance Information System (RAIS) of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and selected adolescents from families with similar vulnerability scores.

Our final quantitative sample consisted of 4,000 adolescents, equally split by sex (girls and boys) and by age cohort (younger adolescents aged 10–12 years, and older adolescents aged 15–17 years). Because sampling was based on household vulnerability, and refugee households are more vulnerable than Jordanian households, our sample is tilted towards refugees (with 15% Jordanians) (see Table 1 and 2 for details) (Baird et al., 2018). In line with the mandate of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ‘leave no one behind’, we also deliberately over sampled some groups of especially marginalised young people, including those with disabilities and girls who were (or had been) married. Our qualitative sample, which consisted of 240 adolescents, was purposively selected out of the larger sample (for more details on the research methods and research ethics, see Jones et al., 2018).

Read the full report, executive summary, and executive summary in Arabic