Our plane landed on an almost dirt airstrip, precariously carved out from among the bushes in Uganda’s northern District of Adjumani, which has a border with South Sudan to the northwest. The district is home to some 227,000 refugees, who make up close to 60% of the total population. Immediately after disembarking, we drove off on a dirt road, flanked by tall, green corn fields, banana palm and mango trees, which created a sea of vegetation – parted here and there by narrow lanes leading to mud huts. As we approached the district’s center, I tried to spot the usual tell-tale signs of refugee quarters, such as fences or other kind of demarcations.
There were none.
Her tears remain vivid in my mind. She was one of so many young Nigerian kids that we met while on mission in North East Nigeria. They and the rest of their communities were desperate for hope and livelihood. I was part of a World Bank inter-disciplinary crisis response/stabilization and operational support team that recently visited the region, which remains the home base for the Boko Haram insurgency.
Last week, I represented the World Bank Group at the United Nations Security Council on the famine response in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. In these four countries, more than 20 million people face famine or the risk of famine over the coming six months, and urgent action is needed to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.
The Security Council may appear to be an unusual place to find a development institution such as the World Bank, especially regarding a humanitarian crisis like famine.
I had the opportunity recently to participate in the Third Edition of the World Reconstruction Conference, where I was reminded once again of a sobering reality – that we live in an increasingly interconnected world where multiple crises overlap in complex ways, from the impacts of climate change to a spike in violent conflict, historically high levels of forced displacement, and the worst famine in 70 years.
At the same time, I was encouraged by how the international community is coming together, breaking silos to forge a comprehensive response. While the Conference focused on the role of post-crisis recovery and reconstruction for resilience building and disaster risk reduction, partners recognized the complexity of this effort. The joint communique noted that conflict and fragility require special attention as it can aggravate the impact of natural disasters and make the recovery process more challenging.
Today on World Refugee Day, we hear once again that the number of people forcibly displaced due to conflict and persecution has increased to 65.6 million by the end of 2016, according to UNHCR’s latest Global Trends report.
These numbers have served to galvanize attention to the severity of this crisis, providing momentum for the global community to take action. At the same time, these numbers have caused anxieties among many hosts, especially in OECD countries. Taking center stage in the political debate, it has raised questions over their ability to support all of those fleeing conflict, at times leading to fear and rising anti-refugee sentiments.
Have we really entered a “new world” where population movements are on a scale never experienced before, calling for extraordinary measures to stop the flow? To answer this question, it’s worth taking a closer look at the numbers.
If you were forced to run for your life, amidst falling bombs or as a hurricane approaches, what would you grab after your children and loved ones? You would be well advised to make your identity documents one of the first things to pack. Birth certificates, national ID cards, passports, residence permits, even a driver’s license—documents like these will be necessary to prove who you are to the authorities in the country to which you flee, and the authorities in your home country when it is safe to return.
If you have been to the West Bank, you might know that refugees there no longer live in tents. You could even walk through a refugee camp without ever noticing, except for the many posters of those lost in the conflict. In the two refugee camps in Bethlehem, Aida and Dheisheh, there is no physical division left between city and camp, but an invisible divide remains.
In Kenya, and refugee-hosting countries in Africa, the camp-based protection and humanitarian assistance model has been the default response to the often-protracted forced displacement situations. The underlying assumption has been that it would be impossible or undesirable for refugees to be self-sufficient while waiting for peace to return to their countries of origin.
Therefore, it is not a surprise that refugees from South Sudan and other neighboring countries in north-western Kenya are being assisted in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, which has been hosting refugees since early 1990s. Several waves of refugees have come and gone over the past 25 years, the most recent influx from South Sudan having started in December 2013. The camp has grown into four sub-sections with a capacity of 125,000 persons but a current population of over 155,000. Like in the majority of protracted situations, the care and maintenance programs in Kakuma included providing them with access to shelter, food, water, health care and education.
The 16 Days of Activism campaign also allows us to reflect on the important role of research in activism. Without rigorous research, activism against gender-based violence may be misguided or misaligned with individual or community perceptions and needs.
What is meant by rigorous research?
Rigorous research has been defined as research that applies the appropriate research tools to investigate a set of stated objectives. While some researchers may argue that quantitative research methodologies generate more rigorous data, using this definition we can see that qualitative research methodologies can also generate rigorous data to inform programming, policy and activism.
Our project, funded by the World Bank Group and Sexual Violence Research Initiative Development Marketplace for Innovations to Prevent Gender-Based Violence, aims to do just that—generate rigorous data using qualitative research methodologies to better understand the gender, social, and cultural norms that contribute to intimate partner violence among Syrian refugees. Women and Health Alliance (WAHA) International in collaboration with academic and organizational partners in Turkey and Greece will collect data using focus group discussions and participatory action learning activities in order to inform future interventions targeting intimate partner violence among displaced populations.
Global Impact of Child Marriage
Child marriage is a global issue of enormous importance. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that 142 million girls will marry young worldwide between 2011 and 2020 and an additional 151 million girls will marry young in the following decade, equating to 39,000 girls marrying prematurely each day. Infants born to young mothers are also at greater risk of low birth weight, stillbirth, and neonatal death. In fact, this form of gender-based violence (GBV) is thought to have contributed to the lack of progress towards meeting UN Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, calling for a two-thirds reduction in the under-five mortality and a three-fourths reduction in maternal deaths, respectively.
The impact of marrying young extends well beyond health consequences. As child brides assume the responsibilities of wives, they are most often unable to continue their formal education thus limiting their literacy and future earning potential. Additionally, young girls are often married to older men and this age discrepancy contributes to unhealthy inequalities within the marriage, often compounding gender inequalities that impair women’s ability to negotiate shared decision making. Thus, experiences of physical, psychological, and sexual violence are more prevalent among girls who marry as children than among those who enter into marriage as consenting adults.
Child Marriage and the Syrian Crisis
Evidence suggests that rates of child marriage have increased in the Middle East due to the Syrian conflict and the resultant displacement. Increased child marriage during conflict and displacement is not unique to the Syrian crisis as prior evidence suggests that vulnerability to early marriage is heightened during conflicts and natural disasters. Economic necessity and a desire to protect girls from harassment and sexual violence at the hands of strangers are thought to be underlying contributors to child marriage but there are undoubtedly other unrecognized factors related to cultural and social norms which have been impacted from experiences of trauma and loss due to the conflict.
To provide new insight into the societal, economic, security, religious and psychosocial factors contributing to child marriage among Syrian refugees in Lebanon, we used an innovative mixed qualitative/quantitative data capture instrument, Cognitive Edge’s SenseMaker. With electronic data entry on tablets, SenseMaker offers the capability to efficiently collect and analyze large quantities of data in the form of self-interpreted micro-narratives. Because participants interpret their own narratives, researcher interpretation bias is reduced and the stories can be directly accessed to contextualize the quantitative data, which derives from participants’ interpretation of the experiences shared in their narratives.
In July and August 2016, a team of 12 trained Syrian/Lebanese interviewers electronically collected 1,422 self-interpreted micro-narratives from 1,346 unique participants on the experiences of Syrian girls in Lebanon. The SenseMaker interviews were conducted with married and unmarried Syrian girls, Syrian mothers and fathers, as well as married and unmarried Syrian/Lebanese men and a variety of community leaders in Beirut, Beqaa, and Tripoli. Data management and preliminary analysis were performed by QED Insight and results will be further analyzed in Tableau, which facilitates pattern recognition across the various subgroups through disaggregation of the data by various demographic characteristics as well as other contextualizing factors such as length of time spent in Lebanon, emotional tone of the story, etc. In doing so, researchers can ascertains patterns in stories to obtain insights that present alternative and diverse points of view.
This SenseMaker data will be presented back to Syrian community members in January and their interpretation of the results will be solicited. Importantly, these facilitated focus group discussions will also serve as a medium through which Syrian communities can self-identify local strategies that are feasible and culturally appropriate to address the issue of child marriage at the local level. This approach fosters community resilience and will help to empower affected families to identify elements of change, which will ultimately be more sustainable and more effective. Through our partnership with the World Bank and SVRI, the community data analysis and local strategies will be brought to the attention of a wide range of policy makers and donors who are increasing their investment and commitment in GBV prevention, response and mitigation based on solid, participatory and innovative analytical work.
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