For over five years photojournalist Monique Jaques has been chronicling the daily life of Palestinian girls living in Gaza, a place facing conflict, poverty and daily electricity blackouts. The work is the subject a recent book, Gaza Girls: Growing Up in the Gaza Strip, published by FotoEvidence Press and designed by Bonnie Briant. The book, writes Jaques in a statement, “tells the stories of young women coming of age in a difficult place…Many women say that in a place as small as Gaza, it is impossible to be truly free.” The images shed light on challenges faced by the young women – such as constant monitoring by brothers, cousins, and neighbors inside a conservative Islamic society – as well as moments of joy and universal teenage behavior.
The Gaza Strip is a 45-square-mile-district and “when you’re a young girl in Gaza,” says Jaques, “your existence is defined by its boundaries – literal and metaphorical, defined by both regional and cultural politics.” The land on which Gaza’s residents live is isolated by concrete blast walls, reams of barbed wire, and soldiers patrolling its perimeters. Israel is visible in the distance, a place that will likely never be reached by those living in this Palestinian-controlled territory. Surveillance by the State and watchful family members are constant, creating “tension and pressure for girls figuring out who they want to be,” says Jaques, adding, “many women have dreams they cannot achieve.” For example, Hadeel Fawzy Abushar, 25, yearns to sing in Ramallah, a city in the West Bank that she will probably never visit as exit permits and visas to neighboring territories and countries are extremely difficult to obtain.
Even with its many hardships, Gaza has one of the best school systems in the Middle East, resulting in almost 100% literacy. Young women have the option of attending one of several universities and many graduate to become writers, engineers and doctors. Yet they are still unable to bring to fruition their dreams of traveling outside of the Strip, if only to return home one day. “‘It is my home,’ they say, ‘I love Gaza,'” reports Jaques.
Jaques, who is committed to documenting the strength, creativity and vibrancy of Palestinian girls and young women, says, “I am awed and haunted by their tremendous resilience, even in the face of unimaginable adversity.”
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