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A perspective from the field: Jordan

Photo: Agnieszka Malachowska/GAGE

GAGE Jordan adolescent participatory researchers in conversation with Sarah Alheiwidi, GAGE Jordan Participatory Research Coordinator

Amplifying adolescent girls’ voices is a key priority for the GAGE research programme – we do this through surveys, through interactive qualitative research tools but also importantly through adolescent participatory research groups. In our participatory research groups, adolescent participants are supported to carry out research themselves – with their families, with their peers and about their communities. We are also aiming to put a spotlight on the perceptions and experiences of girls who are often invisible – so in this case this blog highlights the perspectives of a group of married Syrian adolescent girls in Jordan, reflecting about their experiences with the GAGE participatory research process to date.

Sarah: You have all recently joined a GAGE participatory research team here in Jordan and you have been focusing on interviews with women from older generations to compare and contrast their experiences as adolescents with those of your own.

Sahar: “I never knew that hijab and burqa were not allowed during my grandmother’s generation and that they used to call the girls who wear them with bad names, now we have to wear hijab before marriage and sometime burqa when we get married.”

Rahaf: “I was surprised as to how much they cared for the virginity mark and the whole celebration they did for that in my mother’s and mother-in-law’s day. They used to hold the white sheet with the virginity mark on top of the sword and men start dancing with it. It is disgusting! I also had to show it to my mother-in-law and I was mad because she asked to see it and so I asked my in-laws why they asked for my hand if they did not trust me.”

Jehan: “I was surprised that the wedding dresses were colored before, and that white dresses were stigmatized if worn on the wedding day (because they were not part of the culture). But my mother wore a white wedding dress and did not care because she loved how she looked in it.”

Suha: “My mother told me that she had to be silent and always listen to my husband and in-laws, and do all the housework in both my house and my in-laws house. I was surprised that they had to do all of that, I will never do the same.”

Rahaf: “I think that we are more evolved and civilized now because our lives are very different from our mothers and grandmothers. Now many people understood that if a girl does not bleed on her wedding night that does not mean she is not a virgin, they can go to a doctor. Nonetheless, there are still people who are crazy and kill girls because of these two dots of blood.”

Sahar: “I somehow felt after the interview that my life is very similar to my mother’s life, we got married at the same age. We are still following the same traditions and marrying our cousins, I felt like I was interviewing myself.”

Eva: “In my case it was a bit different…After what I heard about my grandmother’s life, I did understand that we are evolving and we should not stop because my daughter someday will be in my place and we should always be open to new things, we should not stick to the traditions.”

Sarah: That’s fascinating. Can you now tell me about what the interview process itself was like for you?

Malak: “It wasn’t easy to convince our families to do the interviews with us, but once we actually started the interview process they loved the interview – and so did we.”

Sondos: “It was new. Nobody had taught us to do similar activities before, we only listen to lectures on various topics and go back home. Now as part of this participatory research team we are taking activities home and doing them by ourselves.”

Sahar: “I am so happy that I got to be in the position where I could ask my mother questions, this is a good opportunity that this project gave us.”

Eva: “I also thought that this activity is so nice, it allowed us to know different things about our family. I never thought my mother keeps secrets about her love life in the past. She is hiding a shell that her old lover gave her. It was the first time that I had seen this shell.”

Jehan: “The best thing I learned from the interview is that my mother does not hate to talk with me, she just does not like to talk about phones and food. She was happy to talk with me about her generation and her own life as a young person. Now I know how to communicate with her.”

Sarah: I also know that for some of you there were some critical challenges in carrying out the interviews. Can you share some of those with us?

Norhan: “I could not skip school; I had to go to school and then finish my homework and housework, and then find time to do the interview. But my mother would be sleeping when I finish because it will be late at night. I had to do the interview very early in the morning when we wake up for the morning prayers; it was around 4.00 in the morning.”

Liana: “My husband did not allow me to record my voice. So, I told him okay if you do not want me to record my voice then I will write down the questions and you will ask them for me. That is what we did, he asked the questions for me in the interview. During the interview he asked me to stop asking so many questions, so I told him that he was the one who forbade me from recording my voice and wanted to do it this way so he just needed to the interview the way I want to, as if I am the one asking the questions.”

Wasan: “My mother refused to talk to me, she is mad because I left my husband’s house and I want to go back now, I could not do the interview. She is so mad at me.”

Besan: “I had to call my mom from an application we use to communicate, because she is in Syria. I put her on speaker and I recorded with another phone.”

Eva: “I had to write many pages because my mother-in-law did not want to record her voice on the phone, she does not want anybody to hear her voice.”

Sarah: Thank you for sharing these with the group – we’re all very impressed by the lengths you went to so as to carry out the interviews. What about the participatory photography elements of the research? What do you think about those?

Sahar: “I was surprised that my mother used to own a camera and that she loves photography, she started taking photos when she was 7 years old, I was happy when she started showing me how to take photos with the camera you gave us.”

Sondos: “I learned how to take beautiful photos and how to ask sensitive questions to my husband about his life. I started knowing him better, I even learned how to record on phone, that was surprising to me, I thought we can only record via WhatsApp.”

Wasan: “In my case, my family did not allow me to take photos that show people, they were afraid that these photos will be publicly published.”

Malak: “I learned a lot about photography, if I practice enough I can be a photographer for weddings, I can do that for a living.”

Sahar: “I used to take pictures without knowing what to say when I want to post it, now I am able to write short paragraphs that can describe my photos.”

Rahaf: “Now I take photos of my 3 children, I am keeping them on the camera and I want to print them later on. I will write on the back of the photos something about them at this age so they can see it when they grow up. I want them to know that their mother is a good photographer.”

Wasan: “When I first saw the camera, I felt like my heart was racing. I am so happy, I feel like I am a celebrity now.”

Sarah: Thank you all – you have some really beautiful insights about what you have learned so far and about what you gained from the process. I look forward to continuing to work together and to keep learning and sharing these experiences.