Early marriage and displacement—a conversation: how Syrian daughters, mothers and mothers-in-law in Jordan understand marital decision-making

by Ann-Christin Zuntz, George Palattiyil, Abla Amawi, Ruba Al Akash, Ayat Nashwan, Areej Al Majali and Harish Nair

15 Jul 2021
Journal of the British Academy, volume 9 (2021)
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Abstract: Conflict and forced migration threaten to reverse the decline of early marriage in the Middle East. In some Syrian refugee communities, protracted displacement and precarious livelihoods, together with pre-war traditions of early marriage, push families to arrange matches for their adolescent daughters, and sometimes sons. Drawing on thirteen ethnographic interviews with young Syrian women, mothers, mothers-in-law and grandmothers in Jordan, we develop a multi-perspective approach to the study of early marriage. A feminist outlook has informed our fieldwork and the way its results are presented: around a conversation with Syrian women of different ages and from different generational groups. While humanitarian reports often use women’s voices in a tokenistic way, we stay attentive to the complex nature of their stories and ambitions, contrasting them with insights from interviews with Jordanian academics, aid workers and policymakers. Our study adds nuance to existing humanitarian narratives by drawing attention to the interplay of multigenerational household dynamics, legal and economic constraints in host countries, but also younger and older women’s aspirations, that shape marital decision-making within displaced families.

Keywords: Early marriage, displacement, Syrian refugees, Jordan, multigenerational households, humanitarian response.

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