Education and Female Youth in Displacement in South Sudan and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

cover of report: Education and Female Youth in Dsiplacement in South Sudan and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

There is a demonstrated relationship between early marriage and education. Female youth who are out of school are more likely to marry, and those youth who marry while in school, are more likely to drop out. By analyzing the stories of 140 female youth displaced by conflict in South Sudan and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), we examine the role of marital status and motherhood on schooling experience and educational interruption, attainment, and aspirations. We look specifically at the unique challenges faced by female youth living with disabilities. The paper also analyzes the role of gender norms, community perceptions, and family attitudes on adolescent girls’ ability to access education.

The main findings of this study include:

  • Family attitudes and concerns, often gendered, play a pivotal role in whether or not female youth attended school, dropped out of school or succeeded in school. Mothers play a significant role in whether and how a their daughters are educated.
  • Economic hardship resulting from conflict undermined the ability of female youth to afford education, particularly for girls.
  • Delaying marriage is significantly correlated with increased educational attainment, particularly in the KRI. Female youth in both countries who are out of school are more likely to marry early.
  • Female youth who had unintended premarital pregnancies in South Sudan dropped out of school, but half re-enrolled in subsequent years.
  • Separated, divorced, and widowed female youth have particular difficulties in accessing school because of cultural, economic, and social factors.
  • Female youth with physical, psychological, or intellectual disabilities were consistently unable to access, attend, or succeed in school due to a lack of adapted supports and services.
  • Female youth who were successful in their educational goals had high levels of perseverance and resilience.

One in five girls is married under the age of 18 globally, and this practice likely increases during crises, including conflict, displacement, and COVID 19. While the negative repercussions on the child bride, her family, and eventual children are well-documented, little is known about the needs, challenges, opportunities, and constraints faced by female youth in displacement, including how early marriage transpires, and how lives unfold after marriage. As such, the Feinstein International Center together with Save the Children Denmark followed a cohort of displaced adolescent girls in South Sudan and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) between the ages of 14 and 23 for 1.5 years using holistic, participatory methods.

The sample included internally displaced South Sudanese in South Sudan, and Syrian refugees and displaced Yazidis in the KRI.  Research participants were unmarried, married (as minors), divorced, and widowed. Many girls in the cohort became pregnant as minors, and/or have physical, psychological, and intellectual disabilities.

The researchers conducted more than 600 interviews with more than 100 members of the cohort. This data will inform briefing papers on six topics:

  1. early pregnancy and sexual and reproductive health
  2. decision making around the practice of early marriage
  3. life after early marriage
  4. the special situation of divorced and widowed female youth
  5. mental health and psychological support, displacement, and early marriage
  6. education, displacement, and early marriage

Each paper provides cross-sectoral, concrete recommendations for humanitarian organizations seeking to prevent and respond to early marriage in fragile settings.

This project received support from Save the Children Denmark, DANIDA, Tufts University, and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 786064.






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