Syria

In Harm's Way: Adolescent Girls in Northwest Syria: Survivors of Vulnerability, Inequality and Discrimination

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Introduction

Syria remains one of the world’s most complex humanitarian emergencies where 6.7m people are internally displaced, 90% of the population is now estimated to live below the poverty line and 13.4m people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Communities across Northwest Syria rank among the most affected where an estimated 3.4m people are still in need of humanitarian assistance, with needs increasingly being exacerbated by economic decline. 2.8m are internally displaced of which 1.7m are living in camps in the Aleppo and Idlib Governorates (OCHA 2021). Ground and air strikes on many medical facilities, markets, and schools have damaged and rendered them inoperable. These attacks have greatly reduced access to food, water, healthcare, and adequate housing and created a climate of pervasive insecurity in areas already suffering from overcrowding and inadequate resources (UNHCR 2021).

Adolescence, defined by the United Nations as covering the age range 10-19 years, is a formative life period during which the foundations and roots for cognition and behavior are further developed and carried far into the future. For many girls in crisis and fragile settings, the onset of puberty marks a time of heightened vulnerability, discrimination and inequality as many are denied education, experience restricted mobility and forced into child marriage. Many girls also have to take on greater responsibilities in the household yet they have little control over economic resources and limited knowledge and ability to participate in decisions affecting their lives (Plan International 2020). Adolescents in Syria also have grown up navigating the majority of their lives in this conflict and are likely to have experienced significant violence, and lost family and friends to armed conflict or displacement (Mercy Corps 2019).

While women and girls' lives have changed profoundly because of the Syrian crisis, adolescent girls have particularly faced complex challenges that have influenced their development and impacted the rest of their lives. The crisis continues to have a gendered impact, with women and adolescent girls paying a high price for harmful and discriminatory gender norms, including gender-based violence, movement restrictions, child marriage, and lack of access to education (UNFPA 2019). In a conflict setting, issues surrounding COVID-19 are even more challenging, due to added insecurities and vulnerabilities. People who are already vulnerable are more exposed to the worst consequences of the virus (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung 2020).

Adolescent girls are also often invisible during humanitarian emergencies, rarely consulted and their needs are often overlooked. In Syria, adolescents lack meaningful opportunities within their communities and have been missing out on civic and social engagement opportunities (UNICEF 2019). Failing to address the specific needs and capacities of adolescent girls has major and long-term implications for them and for wider society. In a growing number of protracted crises worldwide, adolescent girls are missing multiple years of education and are entering young adulthood without having had opportunities to develop skills, become economically independent or contribute meaningfully to society. This jeopardizes their potential dividend towards recovery, peace building and long-term development (Plan International 2020).