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Navigating Adolescence under Occupation and Prolonged Displacement: The Health and Mental Wellbeing of Palestinian Refugee Adolescent Girls in the West Bank and Jordan
War and displacement have profound and multidimensional effects on health, ranging from more immediate and direct injury and trauma to longer-term impacts on health and wellbeing. The impacts of war and displacement can be especially pronounced among adolescents, as this is a critical transitional period where girls experience key physiological changes that often coincide with important changes in their relationships, roles, and identities vis a vis their families and societies. In this study, we explore the health of adolescent refugee adolescent girls residing in Palestine refugee camps in the West Bank and Jordan. We conducted a qualitative study consisting of 39 in-depth interviews and 24 focus group discussions (with over 200 girls) throughout 29 Palestine refugee camps in the West Bank and Jordan. We focus on how adolescent girls navigate social and political conditions in their daily lives-including patriarchal restrictions, chronic displacement, political violence, the stigma of being a camp dweller, and living conditions in camps- and the implications for their mental health and well-being. The narratives of the girls highlight the important role of the sociocultural and political contexts girls live within in shaping girls’ experiences of adolescence and puberty. Girls consistently referred to feeling suffocated particularly after reaching puberty, often marked by the beginning of menstruation. This period was characterized by increased restrictions on girls’ mobility and freedom. Their mobility was further restricted by concerns over community surveillance given the close-knit nature of camp communities in addition to the overcrowding, and limited infrastructure of the camps. Many times, girls refer to this critical juncture as an end to their childhood and the relative freedom that was associated with it. They discussed how they were told that they were now sabaya and with that came a different set of responsibilities and societal expectations. This was especially the case in more isolated camps, particularly in Jordan. While girls often understood these concerns as a manifestation of their parents being protective of them, they often struggled to come to terms with these new expectations and their evolving identities. The experiences of these girls push us to think critically about agency, resilience, and mental health through an intersectional lens. They also echo Suad Joseph’s work on relational connectivity in various ways.
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