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Using visual participatory research methods with adolescents in Gaza

GAGE aims to contribute to this space by developing key policy-relevant evidence to shape debates and programme investments among implementers, governments and donors working with adolescent girls and boys in conflict-affected settings. We employ a mixed methods approach but with a strong emphasis on innovative participatory research approaches with adolescents, their peers and families.

Involving young people in research

Involving young people as active participants in research has become increasingly popular since the advent of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990) and a great deal of effort and thought have since then gone into conceptualizing children’s involvement in research. At the core of participatory research work with young people is a commitment to a design that better allows children to shape what they want to tell and how. Key principles emphasized include prioritizing data collection and analysis processes that reflect critically on issues of voice and representation, power relations and levels of engagement. More recently, there have been growing efforts to harness new technology and visual story telling approaches. When employed well, visual participatory methods can provide a much-needed space for reflection, action and social change.

Piloting participatory research approaches with adolescents in the Gaza Strip

From August to November 2016 thirty-five adolescents (aged 16-19 years old) were part of such a participatory pilot project designed by the GAGE programme. The objective of the pilot was to explore together context-specific markers of gendered adolescence experiences and the impact of development interventions on adolescent girls’ and boys’ lives and the wider community. The adolescents met on a weekly basis with GAGE research facilitators to undertake a wide range of research activities including peer-to-peer interviewing and participatory photography and videography.

Peer interviewing is widely valued as an outreach and recruitment strategy for research involving ‘hard-to-reach’ and ‘hidden’ populations and in our project adolescent researchers interviewed not only their peers from diverse backgrounds but also (grand)parents, teachers and other service providers, community leaders and programme implementers.

Adolescent in our project were also trained in using the Photovoice technique, a process whereby participants use photography to identify, represent and ultimately contribute to changes in their community. Using cameras to document particular challenges and opportunities in their lived realities, participants engaged in active dialogue about what their photographs mean with peers and adults, and then shared the resultant (anonymized) narratives with the broader community. In this way, the adolescent researchers were able to not only help adult researchers and community stakeholders to understand their lives in a more nuanced way, but also to identify their own priorities and potential action pathways as can be seen here and here.

Key findings and policy implications

Key findings that emerged from the participatory research pilot include the following:

  • Home-bound adolescent girls face significant vulnerabilities yet there are very few efforts to overcome their social isolation. See for example, a video that follows Maha – a Palestinian girl fighting for her educational future.
  • Psychosocial vulnerabilities are exacerbated among Gazan adolescents given the macro- conflict-affected political and economic context. This is highlighted by the stark differences in freedoms enjoyed by grandparents and parents versus young people today.
  • Adolescent girls have very limited access to age-appropriate and girl-centred psychosocial and sexual and reproductive health services – due to a combination of stigma and limited health worker knowledge/comfort in addressing what in the Gazan context are highly sensitive issues.
  • Poor inter-generational communication is a problem that affects both boys and girls but is exacerbated for girls in Palestine due to the added layer of conservative gender norms/ family honour concerns. See examples of conservative gender norms in a photo gallery made by the GAGE adolescent research team.
  • The lack of gender-transformative programming and alternative progressive role models for adolescent boys is also a critical challenge. While Gaza is largely a sex segregated society and perhaps especially so for adolescents, the importance of having some facilitated spaces for girls and boys to work together collaboratively was a powerful learning opportunity during the pilot. See for example, how a girl in Gaza spends her 24 hours with her female family members – separated from the other sex.