“We Don’t Walk in Separate Lines Anymore, We Walk Together”: Engaging Families to Build the Protective Assets of Adolescent Girls in Humanitarian Settings – World

Initial findings and recommendations from the Sibling Support for Adolescent Girls in Emergencies (SSAGE) Program

Research Brief

Executive Summary

Gender-based violence (GBV) programming for adolescent girls in humanitarian settings often seeks to mitigate risks and build protective assets at the individual level. While these approaches are essential, it is also well known that adolescent girls’ lives are strongly influenced by those around them. The household is the primary ecosystem in which adolescent girls ‘lives unfold, presenting both risks and opportunities for girls’ physical and mental health, resilience, gender equity, and protection from violence.

The Sibling Support for Adolescent Girls in Emergencies (SSAGE) Program was collaboratively designed by the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), Mercy Corps, and Washington University at St. Louis to challenge intergenerational cycles of violence and prevent future violence against adolescent girls through a novel gender-transformative, whole-family support approach. Since 2020, the SSAGE Program has been implemented with conflict-affected communities in Nigeria, Niger, and Jordan. SSAGE is complemented by mixed-methods research to understand successes and challenges in terms of program contextualization and implementation, as well as outcomes related to gender equity, protection, family functioning, and mental health and psychosocial well-being. Preliminary findings from this research suggest several key areas in which donors, policymakers, and humanitarian actors can harness the positive influence of household members to build adolescent girls’ protective assets. Since its launch in 2020, the SSAGE Program has reached a total of 1,353 participants in Nigeria, Niger, and Jordan: 390 adolescent girls, 386 male siblings, 295 female caregivers, and 282 male caregivers.

Key Findings

  • Preliminary findings from all three program sites suggest improved family functioning, attitudes toward gender equity, and knowledge of the harmful effects of GBV. In Jordan, SSAGE participants noted better relationships between brothers and sisters, greater communication between caregivers and children, and more equal division of household labor.

  • SSAGE participants in Jordan appreciated the SSAGE Program’s unique approach of involving the entire family, especially how it allowed parents and caregivers to gain insights on the challenges faced by adolescent girls and boys.

  • Participants reported improvements in mental health and resilience, including the majority (77%) of adolescent girl survey participants in Jordan reporting improved mental health and all reporting improvements in resilience. The majority of male and female caregivers (68.8% and 71.4%, respectively) also reported improvements in mental health, whereas just half of male siblings reported improvements in mental health and resilience.

  • Among survey participants in Jordan, female caregivers were the only group for which the majority (71.4%) reported improvements in attitudes toward gender equity. Reported parenting support improved for the majority of both female and male caregivers, particularly for female caregiver support to sons (78.6%) and male caregiver support to daughters (68.8%).

Recommendations Recommendations to Donors

  • Extend GBV funding beyond girl-only programming to interventions that include household members who can effectively support building adolescent girls’ protective assets.

  • Ensure that the involvement of men and boys in GBV programming does not take away focused funding for women and girls, including GBV prevention and response services.

  • Provide flexible multi-year funding to allow for adequate time for data collection, evidence generation, and program activities aimed at changing norms and behaviors related to gender equity that take time and can be difficult to measure.

Recommendations to Policymakers

  • Prioritize the third objective of the GBV Call to Action Roadmap, which calls for mainstreaming gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in humanitarian policy initiatives. Policymakers should also go beyond mainstreaming and focus on promoting standalone, gender-transformative approaches to GBV programming.

  • Align GBV policies with principles of child protection, as outlined in the Primary Prevention Framework for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, which includes guidance on primary prevention of violence at the household level.

  • Address the risk and protective factors for violence against adolescent girls in national GBV policies and ensure both primary prevention in addition to service delivery and response.

Recommendations to Humanitarian Actors

  • Ensure that gender-transformative, whole-family approaches are responsive to the needs and priorities of adolescent girls and approach topics in a context-specific manner.

  • Dedicate sufficient time and effort to community-led contextualization of program content, including the mapping of adolescent girls’ social spheres and influences to ensure that the right household members are involved in program activities.

  • Implement contextualized programming that is evidence-driven, with adequate time and resources to collect and use data that meaningfully informs programming.

  • Include shorter-term and easier-to-measure outcomes, such as changes in knowledge, to assess whether a program is on track to address more deeply rooted attitudes and behaviors. Humanitarian actors must have realistic expectations of what can be achieved and what can be measured in a short period of time.

Leave a Comment