I am Generation Equality: Souhaila Nassar, changing the image of refugees

Billions of people across the world stand on the right side of history every day. They speak up, take a stand, mobilize, and take big and small actions to advance women’s rights. This is Generation Equality.


I am Generation Equality
Souhaila Nassar, 33, works to support other women and girl refugees in Lebanon. Photo Courtesy of Souhaila Nassar
Souhaila Nassar, 33, works to support other women and girl refugees in Lebanon. Photo Courtesy of Souhaila Nassar

I am Generation Equality because…

Three ways to support refugee women and girls:

  • Promote access to education and extracurriculars
  • Encourage the dreams and aspirations of refugee girls
  • Icon- a girl raises her arm
  • Ensure equity and diversity in classrooms

I want people to know that refugee women are just like other women.

I'm a Palestinian refugee but I was born in the United Arab Emirates. After the war broke out in Kuwait, my parents were afraid that something might happen to us. When I was three years old, we came to Burj Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon.

I was always a distinguished student in school, and I dreamed of going to the American University of Beirut (AUB). But it was just a dream. I had no money. I remember how hard it was to see all my friends go to that university. Instead, I enrolled at a local Lebanese university and studied biochemistry.

When I graduated, I wanted to get a Master’s degree, so I started saving; however, I live in a very conservative community where some people think after a girl graduates there is nothing else for her to do besides get married and have children. But that was never really on my list. Even so, I followed their direction and got engaged. Shortly after, we decided to break up and he asked my family to pay him back for [money he spent during our] engagement." .

We were a poor family, so there was no way for us to get this money. I gave him all my savings for my Master’s degree.

This made me even more persistent, and again I started saving. After five years, I registered at AUB and again I became a distinguished student and I got the honor to assist a professor with research. Currently I’m working on my thesis.

Contrary to what people think, being a refugee gives you a bigger drive to pursue education because I knew it would change my life and my future. It’s offered me a better job, more self-confidence, more connections. As a society we need to reconceptualize our view of refugees.

Humanitarian response should consider the needs of women and girls

As a young girl, my school did not have extracurricular activities like sports or music and there were no places in the camp where girls could play or express themselves.

The Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action (WPS-HA Compact) is an inter-generational, inclusive movement which calls for the redesign of peace and security and humanitarian processes to systematically and meaningfully include women and girls – including peacebuilders, refugees, other forcibly displaced and stateless women and girls – in the decisions that impact their lives. To find out more, visit www.wpshacompact.org.

The boys would play football in the alleyways, but the girls were told it was inappropriate.

I heard there were organizations in our camp that offered spaces to meet other children and do something other than put my head in my books.

When I was 11 years old, I found the Palestinian Women’s Humanitarian Organization, which supports refugee women in Lebanon, providing equal opportunities for them to work and study and help children realize their full potential. I also learned to play several musical instruments.

As a refugee, I really want children, and particularly young girls, to have these interactive experiences outside of traditional learning and to have room to express themselves in their education.

Women deserve equal rights and opportunities

A woman is a human being. Just like a man has the right to decide to get married whenever he wants and to choose what he wants to do in his life, a woman should also be able to make the same choices. Men work to get money for their families, but I’m doing that right now too. I can do all the same things a man can.

However, men need to be part of the solution. I’m living in a community where many girls want to pursue education, but their fathers say, “no, you are 22 years old and you need to get married.” If men can recognize [women’s] rights and regard them as equals, then they will be part of the solution.

My dream is to get a PhD in education, probably with a focus on translanguaging, because children have the right to quality education. Many children, particularly refugees and immigrants, are learning science, language and math in a language other than their own, but they should be able to understand what they are learning. I’m interested in ensuring equality and diversity in the classroom.

Souhaila Nassar, 33 came to Burj Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon as a young child. After learning and growing from the services of the Palestinian Women’s Humanitarian Organization, Nassar now works to support other young refugees.