Empowering adolescent girls through ISHRAK

The story of Duha and Souad

A mother and daughter posing for the camera.
January 07, 2023

Long-term displacement in Jordan and ongoing economic and social pressures have had a significant effect on how Syrian refugees live and on their relationships with their children and parents. There has been a considerable increase in the stress on breadwinners as a whole, and securing a living for their families has surpassed the care of their children as a priority for most parents.

However, adolescent girls find it especially tough because, on top of the challenges they face at home and at school, they also have to figure out how to navigate the turbulent years of adolescence on their own. The stress on their mothers, who are already struggling emotionally and financially, makes it more difficult for them to spend quality time with their daughters and listen to their concerns.

According to some reports, Syrian girls’ lifes are the most constrained in Jordan, with just one-third leaving home on a regular basis. Early marriage is also a serious concern for Syrian females aged 15–17. In Za’atari and Azraq camps, sexual harassment in public settings and violence at home, especially intimate partner violence, are pervasive.

Duha Al Salamat, a 14-year-old Syrian girl, was one of many girls her age who lacked a safe place to express themselves and talk about their problems with other girls. “No place is safe.” Duha said, “Home is the only place where I feel truly comfortable,” she added.

Mrs. Souad Al-Hariri, Duha’s mother, was in a terrible psychological state because of her low financial circumstances and her continual concern about finding sources of money for her family, which affected the way she treated her children. “I am blaming my own parenting methods for making my children hostile and emotionally unstable,” Souad said. “This was beyond my control,” she continued.

Through ISHRAK interventions, Mercy Corps partners with refugee girls and caregivers to promote behavior change strategies that reaffirm gender equality, norm change, and girls’ empowerment. Funded by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Jordan, Mercy Corps’ ISHRAK (إشراك), meaning ‘engagement,’ is a family strengthening project that provides psychosocial support to fortify bonds between family members in stressful situations.

About six months ago, Souad and Duha took part in the ISHRAK Program’s Parenting and Adolescent Girls’ Empowerment Initiative, which was designed to combat toxic stress, domestic and gender-based violence, and the lack of agency experienced by women and girls. As soon as they finished their sessions, they could feel the benefits, which showed up as a sense of mental ease.

Happily, Duha expressed, “The ISHRAK program introduced me to new friends with whom I could talk about my stresses and engage in activities to reduce my mental distress.” She added, “In terms of my mental state, I can say that I am now quite comfortable.”

“By taking part in the program, I was able to see how vital it is to spend time with my children. Every day I took some time out of my day to speak with them, hear out their concerns, and provide advice on how to address them.” Souad expressed, “I had no idea how much this would improve my relationship with my children.” She continued.

The girl-friendly spaces provide girls with mental health and psychosocial assistance to boost resilience and wellbeing through curricula that emphasize expressive writing and filmmaking. Duha explained enthusiastically “During the expressive writing session, I wrote a story about myself and my dream of becoming a famous football player in the future.”

With these sessions, ISHRAK helps to ensure that girls in these settings feel safe enough to communicate their feelings and express themselves.

In addition, Mercy Corps also conducts sessions with adolescent girls in the camps through an interactive, story-driven puberty education program, Jazeerat Al-Zohour. Jazeerat Al-Zohour is a story that includes accurate, adolescent-friendly information about menstruation, puberty, and growing up. This story was created through WISE Girls by a cohort of teen peer educators who designed the program to help girls choose a solution that fits their needs.

Jazeerat Al Zohour is now my favorite safe space where I feel at home.

Duha, 14 year-old Syrian girl

Duha’s understanding of growing up, menstruation, and puberty has been greatly enriched by Jazeerat Al-Zohour’s story. “I used to feel really embarrassed to discuss the changes in my body.” Duha mentioned. “But now that I understand and can talk about the typical changes that adolescent girls go through, I feel more at ease seeking my mother’s advice and support.” Duha continued.

“I chose to register Duha on Jazeerat Al Zohour in order to find a secure area where she could relieve her stress by chatting to her peers and also learn about herself, her health, puberty, and how to cope with it.” Souad explained.

The ISHRAK’s Parenting Program, on the other hand, addresses girls’ parents and caregivers with a psychosocial support program that enables parents to use more positive parenting techniques and create a more supportive environment.

“I was the type of parent who was constantly nervous at home due to psychological stresses, and I frequently projected my anxieties onto my children.” Souad mentioned. “Now that I’ve completed the program, I know how to handle stressful situations and get quick relief,” she added.

“My mother used to be quite strict with us, and it was difficult for me to talk to her about any troubles I was facing.” “However, after participating in the program, my mother took the time to talk to us and teach us how to deal with stress in healthy ways.” Duha stated.

By addressing the problem from both sides, Mercy Corps’ ISHRAK was able to provide significant support to the mothers and daughters involved through its Parenting Program and the Adolescent Girls’ Empowerment Initiative (Jazeerat Al Zohour).

“As a consequence of witnessing how much comfort Duha found in this program, I want to enroll all of my daughters in it when they hit adolescence,” Souad said. “I also want to encourage other mothers in my close circle to participate in the parental care program,” she continued.

“The small changes that we might not notice or pay attention to had a big impact on how my family felt as a whole, especially with all the bad things going on around us.” Souad concluded.

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