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Syrian Crisis

Research rigor and risks: Investigating gender-based violence in the European refugee crisis

Throughout the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign, we celebrate the strides made since the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991. Despite significant advances in programming and policy, gender-based violence remains pervasive, especially in crisis-affected populations. The ongoing conflict in Syria and the risks of gender-based violence for Syrian refugees challenge us as a global community to focus our attention and intensify our efforts and activism against gender-based violence.
 
Photo: Women and Health Alliance (WAHA) International

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.

Making sense of child marriage in Lebanon

Susan Bartels's picture
Child marriage has emerged as a negative coping strategy among Syrian families who have been forcibly displaced to Lebanon as a result of Syria’s ongoing conflict. Child marriage has profound implications, not just for the girl and for her physical, psychological and socioeconomic well-being, but also for her children, her family, her community, and for global development more broadly. To date, there has been very little research to identify effective interventions for addressing child marriage in humanitarian settings. With the support of the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) and the World Bank Group, Queen’s University and the ABAAD Resource Center for Gender Equality are investigating factors that contribute to child marriage in the Syrian refugee crises. Participatory approaches will be used to identify community-based strategies that would offer Syrian families options other than to marry their young daughters prematurely.

Global Impact of Child Marriage
 
Photo: Colleen Davison

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. Child brides are at high risk for early pregnancy and labor complications including preterm labor, obstructed or prolonged labor, and maternal death. 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.
 
Example of the project’s SenseMaker data output.
Each blue dot represents how one participant
responded to the question asked. Red circles
identify clustered responses and percentages
refer to how many people responded in each cluster.

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.

For more information, contact susanabartels@gmail.com or saja.michael@abaadmena.org
 

Working to address gender-based violence in fragile situations

Diana J. Arango's picture
World Bank Senior Gender-Based Violence and Development Specialist Diana J. Arango shares insights into her work to operationalize gender-based violence prevention and response in fragile settings.

Why is gender important for development in environments affected by fragility, conflict and violence (FCV), in the context of your work?

Even though we know that 35% of women in the world have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hand of an intimate partner or sexual violence at the hand of a non-partner, we have yet to fully understand the complexity and different manifestations of gender-based violence (GBV) experienced by women and girls in conflict. 
 
Photo: Shutterstock

We do know that women and girls experience increased violence, because of the breakdown in social fabric that regulates the use of violence, the lack of security and services, and the reality of being forcibly displaced and living in areas where there is no protection. UNHCR estimates that globally, women and girls comprise about half of internally displaced or stateless populations.
 
We are learning that the Syrian crisis has led to increases in early marriage, and has severely limited women’s mobility. Girls are not given access to education because they are not allowed to leave their homes. Women in Iraq who are widowed enter into temporary marriages to collect dowry and provide food and shelter for their families. While in these temporary marriages, they are often sexually and physically assaulted. 
 
The increased vulnerability of women and girls in FCV and the entrenchment of norms and attitudes that contribute to violence and eat away at women’s autonomy are reasons why it is especially important to always bear in mind how FCV affects women and men, girls and boys differently. 
 
Tell us about your experience working in this area.
 

I led the creation of the Violence Against Women and Girls Resource Guide which was developed and launched in partnership with the Global Women’s Institute (GWI) at George Washington University, and the Inter-American Development Bank in 2014. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) joined the partnership in June 2015.
 
The guide was created to provide basic information on the characteristics and consequences of violence against women and girls, including operational implications. It offers guidance on how to integrate prevention and the provision of quality services to violence survivors within a range of sectoral projects. The guide highlights potential entry points and partners to engage with, while recommending strategies for integrating violence against women and girls into policies and legislation, sector programs and projects. The guide gathers existing global evidence and emerging promising practices, including those implemented by several teams across the World Bank.
 
In addition, we are partnering with the Sexual Violence Research Initiative out of the Medical Research Council of South Africa to address the dearth of evidence. The Development Marketplace for Innovations to Prevent Gender-Based Violence is funding innovation in GBV prevention and response around the world -- including in FCV countries. Two of the nine projects we funded last year are working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Turkey. The funding in Lebanon, for example, will help us better understand the drivers of early marriage and how men, women, boys and girls understand this phenomenon. This information will give us the data we need to design an intervention to address the root causes of early marriage.
 
How can we take this agenda forward?
 
The new World Bank Group Gender Strategy and commitments under the International Development Association (IDA) give us the opportunity to continue our research and improve our understanding of the different ways in which FCV affects women and men. We can also integrate into our operations measures to address GBV and increase economic opportunities as well as access to labor markets for women, while also increasing access to assets and services.
 
I hope to use my experiences of working for almost a decade in humanitarian settings and GBV to provide technical support and share examples of evidence-based interventions that we can use across the World Bank’s programs in FCV to help women and girls in these environments.
 

Sensitizing development challenges through virtual reality

Bassam Sebti's picture


There is a round metal tray surrounded by four children and their parents. In it, there are plates filled with instant noodles, hummus, lebne, olives and pickled eggplant. I look left and there is a silver tea pot. I look right and my eyes catch a plastic bag of pita bread.
 
The tray is put on an unfinished concrete floor covered with a bunch of heavy winter blankets. The brick walls are partially covered with bedding sheets, while heavy winter clothes are hanging on a water pipe.
 
I lift my head up. I see a light bulb hanging from an unfinished cement ceiling. When I look back down, I see a toddler approaching me trying to poke my eyes, until I realize that I am not actually there and she is only trying to poke the 360 camera!

From a rubber boat in the sea to swimming in Rio: A story of resilience

Bassam Sebti's picture


On a chilly October day in 2015, 24-year-old Rami Anis boarded a rubber boat in the Aegean Sea in Turkey. His destination was Europe and his goal was a better life away from war and hardship.

Looking at the people around him on the boat, he was horrified. They were children, men, and women. The fact that they might not make it never escaped his mind, even though he is a professional swimmer.

“Because with the sea, you can’t joke,” said the Syrian refugee.

But on Aug. 11, Rami will not be worried about swimming in the sea. He, instead, will be swimming at the Olympics. He made it safely to Belgium after days of heart-wrenching journey, from Istanbul to Izmir to Greece before setting off a trek through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Germany and eventually Belgium.

Rami will be competing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team — the first of its kind — and march with the Olympic flag immediately before host nation Brazil at the opening ceremony. 

65 million people displaced by conflict – a challenge for development actors

Xavier Devictor's picture

The publication of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' global trends in forced displacement for 2015 report this week made the headlines. For yet another year in a row, the number of forcibly displaced persons has been increasing, reaching an estimated 65 million people worldwide. 

If all these people were living in a country, it would be more populated than the UK. This is a clear development challenge, given that the displaced are often among the most vulnerable of the poor. Their presence also transforms the environment in which host countries and communities are designing and implementing their own poverty reduction efforts.  

Behind such statistics there is an immense amount of human suffering. The personal story of each forcibly displaced person is often heart-breaking. Multiplied by 65 million it makes for a global tragedy.  

Researching violence against Syrian refugee women

Bassam Sebti's picture

He often used a stick or an iron wire to beat her. Her body was covered in bruises, sometimes in all kinds of colors. Hamada's husband, frustrated with losing his son and his job in warring Syria, directed his anger and depression towards the mother of his children.

It is a fact: War is one of many forms of violence to which women are subjected, and for some Syrian refugee women it is a prolongation of what has been happening already in their war-torn country.

They have been beaten, forced into having sex and asked to never talk about it or else get killed — by their own husbands.

For the helpless women, most of whom are mothers, the abuse has been taking physical, emotional and sexual forms.

So how do you address and understand the reasons behind this major, often undermined, issue that adds to the misery of the already miserable women refugees?
 

 Shutterstock

A team of researchers working with the Women and Health Alliance International non-profit organization is working on formative research to prevent intimate partner violence among Syrian refugees in Izmir, Turkey.

"Often, from a worldwide perspective, when we think about conflict, we think about the forms of violence that are highlighted in the media," said team member Jennifer Scott, a physician and researcher at Harvard Medical School.

"But what we are not talking about is what is happening in the household, and the types of violence that are related to stress, cultural norms, or social and gender norms," she added. 

To address this issue, Scott and her team talk with men, women, community leaders, policymakers and religious leaders. They ask questions about what is happening in the household, what sorts of violence women and girls experience, and how has this changed as a result of conflict and displacement.

The goal, she said, is to understand that this kind of violence does not have one dimension.

"It's really multiple layers that we need to understand," Scott said. "In our experience as researchers, when we offer women and men the opportunity to speak, they want to talk about it because it's a very important issue."  

The research project, set to start in June 2016, will take place at a community center in Izmir that offers services not only to Syrian refugees but also other refugees currently living in Izmir. The project will conduct focus group discussions and interviews among community and religious leaders to examine some of the factors that lead to intimate partner violence, and explore possible solutions.

The research data will inform the development of a future program to prevent intimate partner violence among displaced populations.

The World Bank Group and the Sexual Violence Research Initiative recently awarded this project and eight other teams from around the world a total of $1.2 million in recognition of their innovations to prevent gender-based violence.
 

4 smartphone tools Syrian refugees use to arrive in Europe safely

Bassam Sebti's picture
Syrian refugee Yusuf holds his smartphone, which he describes as “the most important thing.” With this, he said, he is able to call his father in Syria. © B. Sokol/UNHCR


If you look inside the bag of any refugee on a life-threatening boat trip to Europe, you see a few possessions that vary from one refugee to another. However, there is one thing they all carry with them: a smartphone.

Those refugees have been criticized for owning smartphones, but what critics do not understand is that refugees consider these expensive devices as their main lifeline to the wider world, helping them flee wars and persecution. They are also the tools through which they tell the world their stories and narrate what is described as the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

The refugees’ escape to Europe is the first of its kind in a fully digital age. It has changed how the exodus is unfolding. Technology used by the refugees is not just making the voyage safer, but also challenging stereotypes held against them. Many Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan, and other refugees fleeing to Europe have shown through their use of smartphones that not all refugees are poor. They flee because they fear for their lives.

Here are a few of many stories on how refugees are using smartphones to survive and tell their stories to the world: