Fighting Societal Pressures facing Nabulsi Youth
No power in society, no hardship in your condition can depress you, keep you down, in knowledge, power, virtue, influence, but by your own consent.
-William Ellery Channing
To this day, girls are discriminated against in every corner of the world; Nablus is no exception. Through my work at TYO, I am aware of how societal pressures affect disadvantaged women in our society every day. However, sometimes it is easy to think that when women become more educated and financially independent, they become immune to conservative societal pressures. I even find myself sometimes forgetting that the pressures facing women in Nablus are still felt by these female members of the elite. However, this past weekend I was again awakened to the fact that our community still fails to treat girls with the same respect and equality that it offers males, regardless of socioeconomic status.
Last Saturday I engaged a group of undergraduate students from the YALLA project in a training about self-awareness. I asked them to identify and discuss what obstacles were prohibiting them from moving forward or from trusting themselves. All of the participants shared deep feelings of fear, guilt, and lack of trust. They shared stories about their personal lives and about their relationship with their families. They spoke about being so afraid to make mistakes that they avoided trying new things; they viewed failure as the worst possible scenario instead of a necessary step on the way to success. All of them shared a need to further develop their self-confidence, but after hearing the girls’ stories, it was clear that the daily pressures facing girls are much more than those facing boys of the same age.
It is clear that girls face a unique set of pressures from their families and society. First of all, they are not allowed out of the home without permission; the only acceptable reason to leave the home is academics. They are only allowed to come to TYO because they receive academic credit for their volunteer hours. Also, they face a lot of resistance if they want to leave home on the weekends. If a girls is seen outside of the home, people in the community assume that she is doing something unacceptable; the members of the community then begin to gossip with each other about the girl, her family, and the reputation of both. Moreover, even though these girls are very smart and university-educated, their families expect them to make marriage and family their first priority. If these young women are unable to balance a job and raising a family, they are expected to quit their job.
In addition to better understanding these unique pressures facing girls in the community, I was also struck by the severe lack of self-confidence amongst boys and girls. I would attribute this lack of self-confidence to the hierarchical community in which we live. Up until this point in their lives, these youth have not been given agency to make decisions for themselves; instead, they must listen unquestioningly to their elders. During this transitional stage, they are beginning to make their own decisions for the first time, and are therefore hesitant.
Self-confidence is a prerequisite for success. Building self-confidence is a learning process that needs internal motivation. To build self-confidence, people must make clear long-term goals, as well as smaller short-term goals that are measurable and task-oriented. When the students spoke about their daily struggles it was obvious that they didn’t have any goals for their lives; instead, outside forces—such as family and community expectations—controlled them. Although some trainees could identify their struggles, they had trouble creating goals to help them feel satisfied. Trainees said that being at TYO as volunteers had helped them to further develop their self-confidence. They were grateful to be surrounded by positive people and mentors who gave them respect and support in overcoming their own self-doubt.
Suhad Jabi Masri is TYO’s Psychosocial Program Manager.