Young Girls in the Gaza Strip Flourish Despite Repression

Monique Jaques's project 'Gaza Girls' hopes to create a deeper sense of empathy in the region.

by Clara Mokri
Aug 23 2017, 4:00am

Alle billeder af Monique Jacques

In 2012, Turkish photojournalist Monique Jaques traveled to the Gaza Strip to document Operation Pillar of Defense—one of the countless battles between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas. What was intended to be an eight-day assignment turned into a five-year-long personal project, Gaza Girls: Growing Up in the Gaza Strip, which documents the lives of young women growing up and coming of age in the tumultuous region. Jaques was motivated by the girls' tenacity, determination, and passion in spite of the adversity they are forced to endure daily.

"Gaza is a troubled land, and growing up there isn't easy. It is a 45-square-mile district, isolated by towering concrete blast walls, reams of barbed wire, and foreign soldiers who patrol its perimeters," Jaques recalls in her artist statement of her time spent there. "After years of blockades and travel restrictions, the territory is isolated and shut off from the rest of the world. At night, the never-ending buzz of drones lull you into a light sleep under their watchful din. If you stand on the beach, you can see lights coming from Israel—a land that you will never be able to touch. Boundaries and surveillance define your existence."

Doaa in a friend's bedroom. Unmarried girls have few places in which to be themselves. Bedrooms and private cars are sanctuaries where girls can sing and dance without being judged by the public or their own families.

The result is constant scrutiny and pressure. The Gaza Strip—roughly twice the size of Washington, DC, and home to more than 2 million people—is overcrowded and has been compared to living in an outdoor prison, according to Jaques. With everyone living so close together, and extended families together under one roof, there is little room for privacy. "Add conservative Islam and bored family members looking to gossip to the mix, and it creates tension and pressure for girls figuring out who they want to be," says Jaques.

For Jaques, this project was not just about finding young girls to photograph and moving on to her next subject—it was about forging bonds between the girls she met. "I worked slowly. I spoke with the girls and knew them well before we started photographing. Many of them I have known throughout the years, but I'm always meeting new people." Because she was not working to meet a deadline, she was really able to devote her time to make the project more personal. Her favorite part of the project is returning to Gaza to see how these young women have developed and how their lives have changed. "Last week, when I went back, one of the girls I photographed had a baby!"

Jaques hopes that Gaza Girls can expose an underreported side of a very complicated conflict and give people a better understanding of the region and a deeper sense of empathy. "At the end of the day, they're just girls like you and me," says Jaques. "They live inside a terribly complicated conflict but think and dream just like we do."

Through interacting and meeting the Gaza girls, Jaques saw more similarities between the girls she was photographing herself at a young age—from their interest in clothes and makeup to boys at school. "They have this desire to travel and explore and to be independent like I did at their age," Jaques says. "But while in the rest of the world we might get to discover those dreams and live them out, they can't."

A girl shows off her Palestinian-themed nails after a recent bombing campaign.
Hours after a ceasefire was declared between Hamas and Israel, the people of Gaza City begin to rebuild. Shops open, and families go out to witness the damage incurred by the recent strikes.
Nisreen Shawa, a worker for the Palestinian Medical Relief Foundation at the Hamza Bin Abd-el Muttalib School, where they do art therapy and exercises with girls after the recent bombings.
At a salon in Gaza City, women come to get their hair, nails, and makeup done before weddings. In many families, a woman is not allowed to be seen without a veil by a man outside of her family, so beauty salons are for women only.
Medical students from Islamic University on break in the Maternity Ward of Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza
Yara and her brother waiting for their father to return with shawarma as an evening treat after a recent conflict ended.
Hadeel Fawzy Abushar, 25, records a song in a studio in Gaza City. Few female singers remain as families and local government look down on the practice. Hadeel started when she was 12, as all of her sisters are singers.
Madleen Koolab takes Gazans out for rides on Thursday nights, a popular evening for families. Madleen owns the boat and uses it to fish during the week.
For many Gazans, the sea is the only place they can be without being reminded of their isolation. Sabah Abu Ghanem,14, and her sister surf early in the morning outside of Gaza City. The sisters place first in many competitions inside the strip but have never left to compete.
Mannequins wear available clothing in a shop near the main street of Gaza.
Girls watch the sun set at the harbor in Gaza City. While living in Gaza is undeniably tough, being a woman there is harder.
Yara and her friends prepare a dance number during a blackout. Fuel is scarce in Gaza, and many families only receive six to eight hours of electricity a day.
A phone shaped like lips and a prayer rug sit in the corner during a blackout.
A woman walks by a mural discouraging domestic violence outside of Al-Shifa Hospital. According to a 2012 study, some 37 percent of women are subjected to domestic violence by their husbands.
Girls play football in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiyah. Women in Gaza typically do all types of sports till the age of 16, when family pressure forces them to stop as many families seek to find husbands for them.

You can purchase Gaza Girls here, and follow Clara Mokri and Monique Jaques on Instagram.

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Monique Jaques