Skip to main content

Gaza through an adolescent lens

A photo tour of the life of a Gazan girl

Jamela, a 17-year-old girl, lives with her four brothers, two sisters and parents in a small flat in the occupied Gaza Strip. Jamela has never travelled outside of Gaza due to restrictions imposed by Israel, yet she dreams of seeing the world. She dreams of one day becoming a famous artist.

Dreaming of the future

With an art career in mind, Jamela has applied for a scholarship to study fine arts outside of Gaza. She is not as worried about her application as she is about whether her parents will allow her to go abroad. Jamela believes that the community is unfair to women. Boys can participate in many activities outside the home but the opportunities for girls are much more limited.

Rising early, challenging clothing choices

Jamela normally gets up at 5.30am: After her morning prayers she takes time to choose her clothes as she has to make sure her dress is in line with conservative social norms dominant in Gaza. She lives with her parents and siblings in the home of her grandparents – who in turn live downstairs with her aunts and uncles. One of her uncles died during the 2014 military conflict in Gaza and this puts a strain on her family – both economically and emotionally.

Early morning, economic struggles

At 6:30am Jamela leaves the house and walks to school. Most of her peers take local transport but her family can’t afford the daily transport costs of around 8 NIS (around 2 GBP). Jamela’s father owns a small electrical maintenance workshop and his revenue is unstable. He earns around 700 NIS (around 154 GBP) per month and most of this income goes towards her sister’s university fees and even then the family relies on university loans.

School time – and mobile phones

School is very often a welcome distraction for adolescent girls from the ever-present challenges of the siege on Gaza. They meet their friends, laugh and learn more about the world. Education is seen as important so as to ‘get a job in the future and to become self-sufficient’. Although girls are not allowed to bring their mobile phones to school, some do - Jamela uses her friends’ mobiles to communicate with the ‘external world’ and to browse the internet.

Banned from being on the streets

After school Jamela is not allowed to go outside alone. Her mother or aunts have to escort her. Her parents justify this saying: ‘you are now 17 years old and girls like you should not be in the street, but at home’. Jamela resents this lack of freedom: ‘I feel angry and depressed, like it is my fault that I am an adolescent. Everything is forbidden, everything is restricted and everywhere, always, you are supervised!’.

Homebound and better days

Tuesdays and Thursdays are the best days of Jamela’s week. She is allowed to visit the Cultural and Free Thought Association (CFTA) from 13:30 to 15.30 where she draws and engages in sports, science and other activities. For her, the centre acts as a ‘social club to vent, debrief and develop positive energy’. On the afternoons where there are no club activities, she stays at home and at 4pm watches Turkish soap operas. Her parents usually get very upset when she watches TV as they want her to focus solely on studying. At 5pm, she starts studying and doing her homework.

Dinner time and double standards

Shortly before dinner Jamela helps her mother set the table and then calls her younger brothers from outside. ‘Men are consulted about the type of food they prefer; females are not consulted at all. Not just at home but also at official dinners, men eat first, then women’.

‘Even at Eid, I am not allowed to be happy, my life is full of miseries... I almost have no control over my life’. Her mum forces her to stay at home to take care of her siblings. ‘Like most children in Gaza, I want to see the slaughter of the sacrificial cow.  I cried a lot when my uncle didn’t allow me to see that ritual because there were men at the slaughtering site’.

Space to think

After dinner Jamela helps her mother do most of the housekeeping. Her sister, Aya – four years Jamela’s senior and a pharmacy student at the local university - does not have to help as much. Because pharmacy is a prestigious profession her study time is prioritised over Jamela’s.

Jamela struggles to balance her time between her homework and the chores: often she is only able to start doing her homework after dark. She uses a rechargeable lamp as electricity in Gaza is generally unstable and power cuts happen on a regular basis.

After finishing her homework - Jamala uses her mother’s mobile phone to connect with her friends. She doesn’t have a personal mobile and can only use the phone under strict supervision. Her parents constantly fight with her about the phone because they want her to: ‘spend all her time reading’, there’s never a moment to rest. At around 10pm, she goes to bed.