Syrian girls at a community centre in Lebanon. Photo: Russell Watkins/DfID
The context: Lebanon is a small country on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean and has a long border with Syria. On a per-capita basis, it is hosting more refugees than any other country in the world – including almost 1 million registered Syrian refugees as well as 175,000 registered Palestinian refugees. The proportion of Lebanese residents who are adolescents is not known, as there has been no census for nearly 100 years.
Education and learning: Even at the primary level, Lebanon has not achieved universal enrolment – just under 90% of girls attend primary school (compared to 95% for boys). At the secondary level, enrolment rates for both girls and boys are only 70%. Syrian refugee children, and especially older adolescents, have extremely limited access to education. Of those aged six to 14, only 70% are in school. Of those aged 15 to 17, the enrolment rate falls to only 22%.
Bodily autonomy, integrity and freedom from violence: Child marriage is relatively rare among Lebanese girls, but increasingly common among Syrian refugees. One-third of girls in some Syrian communities are married before the age of 18. While there appears to be no national-level research that has focused on girls’ and women’s experiences of gender-based violence (GBV), research with refugee populations has found that Syrian girls are increasingly vulnerable to GBV. It has also found high rates of bullying, especially for boys.
Health, nutrition, and sexual and reproductive health: Evidence about Lebanese adolescents’ physical health is thin and fractured. The majority appears to focus on the growing number of young people who are overweight or obese and rising rates of substance abuse, especially for boys. Syrian refugees face high rates of food insecurity. Research has shown that very few young people – whether they are Lebanese, Syrian or Palestinian – have access to information about sexual and reproductive health.
Psychosocial well-being: Evidence suggests that about one-quarter of Lebanese adolescents have had a recent mental health concern.1 Girls are more prone to ‘internalising’ problems, such as depression and anxiety, and boys are more prone misbehaving. Syrian adolescents face even more stressors, given their dislocation and poverty – with girls, who are often kept isolated at home, the most disadvantaged. One study found that only 5% of adolescent Syrian girls are satisfied with their lives. Despite the fact that four-fifths of Palestine adolescents have witnessed a traumatic event, most are satisfied with their lives because they have come to see the background trauma as normal.2
Voice and agency: There is almost no research focused on the voice and agency of adolescents living in Lebanon – though the limited evidence we have suggests that it is minimal. Due to restrictive gender norms, girls are disadvantaged compared to boys. Where they can and cannot go is restricted and they often feel that they have no role to play in their communities.
Economic empowerment: While one-quarter of older adolescent boys are in the labour market, fewer than one in 10 girls is employed. This is partly because girls are more likely than boys to be in school, but is also due to social norms that say that girls and women should not work. The latter is also reflected in unemployment rates, which are twice as high for adolescent girls compared to boys (20% versus 17%).3
The evidence base: Our situation analysis concludes that outside of education, we know little about the capabilities of Lebanese adolescents. Indeed, due to the country’s sectarian divisions, age and gender are all but invisible. Thanks to needs assessments completed by NGOs, we know relatively more about some of the threats facing Syrian girls, such as child marriage. Palestinian refugee girls have been almost completely ignored.