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Leave No One Behind: Youth in Protracted Crises

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - LNOB (Leave No One Behind: Youth in Protracted Crises)

Reporting period: 2019-12-01 to 2021-11-30

The Leave No One Behind Project (LNOB) was designed to address two problem areas. First, is to fill an important knowledge gap--to understand the experiences, challenges, opportunities, and constraints faced by female youth that have been displaced due to conflict. The second is to bridge empirical research findings with humanitarian policy and practice to improve humanitarian response.
The research process relied on a holistic approach, using a qualitative participatory design to solicit information about the lived experiences of female youth in displacement, and to shed light on the practice and experience of early marriage, as well as additional challenges included but not limited to: returns and migration, health, education, mental health, livelihoods and protection. LNOB conducted research with Syrian refugees and internally displaced Yazidis in the Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI) and internally displaced South Sudanese in South Sudan (SS). A key goal of the study was to employ a novel methodology, by creating a cohort of female youth in the KRI and SS, that would be followed throughout the duration of the project. These girls were interviewed using a variety of participatory methods, every two months for a period of 12-14 months. Different marriage groups were targeted and include: unmarried girls, girls that married as minors and remain married, as well as those that later divorced or became widowed. As well, we included two additional subgroups in the sample: those that became pregnant as minors, as well as girls with physical, psychological and intellectual disabilities, regardless of their marital status. When possible, LNOB also interviewed a family member of the cohort participant.
In addition, we also interviewed NGO workers, community leaders, healthcare providers, educators, government representatives, and camp managers as key informants in our study locations. Our local researchers were from the affected communities in both countries. Despite extremely difficult circumstances related to COVID, we were also able to conduct many of the interviews remotely with our local researchers via WhatsApp. In total, we were able to create a cohort of approximately 100 girls, and we conducted 594 qualitative interviews which have been coded and analyzed.
LNOB unfolded through a series of phases summarized here:

Phase 1: The research team conducted an extensive literature review on early marriage and adolescent girls in displacement both globally as well as within specific countries. LNOB held a series of meetings within the Save the Children organization (Denmark, internationally, country offices): to understand local context and ultimately select case country studies.
Phase 2: LNOB met with Iraq and South Sudan country offices to receive input about the study design, understand more deeply the local context of displacement and early marriage, and to plan for data collection. The research team held a series of research workshops to support the development of the research capacity of the staff—in particular, conducting qualitative research and trauma informed research methodologies.
Phase 3: Phase 3 involved recruiting local researchers from both countries—we prioritized hiring female researchers from the affected communities. Phase 3 also involved ethical reviews and approvals (including safe data management) with both the grantor (EU) and Save the Children International.
Phase 4: This involved data collection with key informants and the building of the cohort of displaced female youth an don-going interviews (averaging 5 per participant). Nearly six hundred interviews were conducted.
Phase 5: Phase 5 included coding interview transcripts by theme and analyzing data. An analysis workshop was held, where themes were selected for writing and dissemination, based in part on information gaps in humanitarian programming and policy making, and Save the Children’s needs and priorities. We assessed that briefing papers (under 10 pages) would be the most effective form of written communication to policy makers, advocates and humanitarians.

At the time of writing, we have drafted four research briefings on the following topics to encapsulate the key findings:
1) Early pregnancy:
2) Decision Making and Early Marriage:
3) Life after Marriage:
4) Divorced Female Youth and Widows:

During the grant period, we have also 1. presented preliminary findings to the US Department of State Committee on Women, Peace and Security, Tufts University, and Save the Children International, Denmark, Iraq and South Sudan. 2. We have also contributed to the global technical guidance on early marriage for Save the Children International. and 3. The team has provided guidance to a pilot intervention targeting Syrian refugee girls in Jordan to prevent early marriage.
LNOB has made several impressive scientific achievements. Here are some highlights:
• Despite the popular discourse in international circles, not all early marriages are forced marriages.
• Girls who married very young (i.e. ages 12-14) appear to have much worse outcomes and experiences after marriage than those who were able to delay their marriages by only a few years.
• Girls who married young and had children were in a very difficult situation if and when they needed or wanted to leave a marriage, particularly related to child custody.
• Female youth that are divorced or widowed have specific vulnerabilities—including social stigma, family violence, child custody issues, and worse mental health outcomes than female youth in other marital groups.
• Girls who stay in school are less likely to marry as minors.
• In South Sudan, most early pregnancies are unintentional and are primarily linked to a lack of knowledge of pregnancy prevention and/or boredom/idleness and exploitation.
• In South Sudan, early pregnancy impacts the livelihoods of the natal family, which puts the family, the girl, and the child in a more precarious situation, economically and psychologically. Early pregnancy negatively effects reputation, which is tied up in the economics of bride wealth.
• In South Sudan, the majority of girls who were attending school and became pregnant, dropped out as a result of the pregnancy/birth.

The following activities are planned in the coming months with additional money secured:

1. Presentation at DANIDA’s SGBV conference (March 2022.)
2. Launch of the LNOB to DANIDA, the UN and INGO community in (April/ May 2022) in Copenhagen, accompanied by press briefings and official announcements.
3. Workshops with STC Denmark, Iraq and South Sudan to facilitate uptake of research results directly into their programs.
4. Invited speaking engagements to disseminate results including: the USG; ECHO; UNICEF; UNFPA; Nordic Governments.
5. The four research briefings described in the previous section will be posted on the Feinstein International Center of Tufts University and Save the Children websites. The reports will also be disseminated through these institution’s mailing lists.
6. A minimum of 5 articles will be published in peer-reviewed journals.

LNOB has the potential to transform the way the international community regards female youth in displacement, and how these policymakers, advocates and humanitarians interface with this population. Early marriage prevention and response programming will be greatly improved.
Photo of "timeline" exercise: one of the participatory methodologies used with research participants