Psychological and Emotional Welbeing of Women and Girls in Crisis Situations: What Psychosocial Support Needs?

wanico
Posted October 15, 2020

During this year’s World Mental Health Season and The Day Of The Girl Child, a reflecting on the psychological and emotional welbeing and psychosocial support needs of women and girls in crisis situations is opportune. Informed by data collected in Internally Displaced Person’s (IDPs) slums in Yaoundé in December 2019 and a two months (August and September 2020) investigation in the restive North West and South West Regions of Cameroon, this reflection reveals the   repetitive trauma that these women and girls have been subjected to from the scourges of armed conflicts for four years and counting and today exacerbated by the COVID-19 global health pandemic restrictive measures. The sombering experiences of these social vulnerable groups for the past four years include rape and other forms of sexual exploitation and abuse with consequences including unintended pregnancies, infection with  STDs and HIV/AIDS, child marriage,  kidnapping and adduction, witnessing the butchery of loved ones and kinsmen, destruction of livelihood activities and other properties, restriction from movement, worship and assembly, school closure and others. While trauma from violence, like human heads littering the streets, live butchering and desecration of human bodies especially those of women and girls is obvious, individuals bear a deeper, more profound and detrimental emotional disorders than the obvious.

 Observed for the first time on October 10, 1992, the World Mental Health Day (WMHD) is a programme of the World Federation for Mental Health. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide, with the  objectives being to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world, educate communities on the signs and impacts, of mental health conditions, advocate against social stigma, mobilize efforts and funds in support of mental health. The day is celebrated this year 2020 under the theme “Mental Health for All- Greater Investment – Greater Access”.

According to Dr Ingrid Daniels (The President of World Federation for Mental Health), “The current worldwide pandemic arose against an already dire mental health landscape that saw mental health conditions on the rise across the globe”. World bank group (2020) estimates that “At least 10% of the world’s population is affected, and that 20% of children and adolescents suffer from some type of mental disorder”, with numbers rising approximately to one in five people (22.1) in countries affected by fragility, conflicts or violence. WHO (2019) contends that “mental health conditions in conflict situations are much more widespread than we thought”.

In like manner, the day of the girl child this year celebrated under the theme “My Voice, Our Equal Future”. Together with the Generation Equality campaign and movement for bold action on gender equality launched in early 2020, the  commemoration of  25 years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – the global agenda for advancing the rights and empowerment of women and girls, everywhere, 20 years the UNSCR 1325 on women, peace and security which acknowledges the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflicts on women and girls and other commitments, the Psychological and Emotional welbeing of this social vulnerable group cannot continue to be undermined.

Cameroon has been in conflicts since the outbreak of the Boko Haram violent extremism in the Far North, and the Anglophone secessionist revolution in the South and North West Regions since 2014 and 2016, respectively. This situation has been aggravated by the outbreak of the coronavirus, worsening humanitarian situations and having to cope with refugees from neighboring Central African Republic and Nigeria in the Adamawa and East Regions of the country. Women and girls bear the brunt of these crises situations which plumate the already weak state institutions and further render them irresponsive to Gender Based Violence and other needs of socially vulnerable groups.

According to our preliminary findings, known forms of Gender Based Violence in Emergencies (GBVIE) including rape and other harmful practices;  and context specific  change in gender roles (e.g., digging of graves by women to bury the deaths) have left a great toll of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse and others which are adversely affecting the welbeing of women and girls in this part of the world. Fear, sadness, confusion, withdrawal, sleeplessness, hallucination and other mental health disorders symptoms and signs have affected their ability to work and manage daily stresses, thereby rendering them miserable and wanting to die.

 For instance, we met 20 years old Mary in a community health care center who came for post-natal consultation with her 3 months old baby. Mary is an IDP from one of the hotspot villages. She anonymously narrated her ordeal of rape alongside three other girls on the way while fleeing by 3 different groups of men both military and alleged “Amba boys”. Raped twice while fleeing through the bushes, they decided to use the main road hoping the situation would be better. At a check point, they couldn’t present identification papers which they had no time to pick when their community was attacked, three military men took them in the nearby bush and… she sobbed through the rest of her ordeal which ended with the baby she is carrying.  Asked if she has shared her story with anyone before, she said she told only the doctor and is afraid of being mocked at if she tells her story. She regrets that she can no longer continue school and fulfill her dreams of becoming a teacher.

We recorded a series of disheartening stories like that of Mary but noticed with dismay that, there are no established safe spaces for these victims to share their stories and build coping mechanisms. These women need safe spaces and not just frameworks. The nonexistence of Social protection systems in Cameroon to fulfill the important function as a political and macroeconomic stabilizer to maintain aggregate demand, reduce inequalities, and cushion the impact of crises on people and the economy particularly on women and girls who bear the brunt of all crises has only worsened the situation of these social vulnerable groups. Political will remains a catalyst for creating quality mental health services and we therefore urge parties to the crisis to lay down their guns and enable technical partner like WHO to create such services to assist those in desperate need of Psychosocial Support.

This story was submitted in response to My Voice, Our Equal Future.

Comments 12

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Isata Kabia
Oct 15
Oct 15

Thank you for sharing, Wanico and for bringing these observations into focus. These are the details that are being missed and really need to be brought to focus: the mental health of girls and women; the crisis for girls and women is usually heightened in crisis situations; and in particular the use of weaponized violence on girls is increasingly traumatic.

wanico
yesterday
yesterday

Thank you for reading kabia. It's so disheartening as we wake up every morning to yet another emotional and psychological draining event. We cannot continue to ignore the effects of this repetitive trauma on victims who are women and girls.

Liana
Oct 15
Oct 15

You touch on a critical area of need, mental health services for crisis survivors, especially women. I think many people and decision-makers are blind to the suffering and long-term impacts of the various acts of violence committed during crises, on top of the impact of the crisis times themselves. We need to value mental health and services and push for these services to be available and affordable for all.

wanico
yesterday
yesterday

Thank you Liana. We focus on the immediate which is good but foget the long term impact of trauma. This is truly claim more lives for what does take a woman or girl to survive armed conflicts and live in deep anxiety and depression?

Nini Mappo
Oct 17
Oct 17

Hello Wanico,
These are grim and sad issues in focus. Thank you for bringing them to the fore. My heart breaks for Mary, and for many like her:/

wanico
yesterday
yesterday

Thank you sister. Mary unfortunately is just a tip of an iceberg. The cases abound and are swelling each day

Lady D_host
Oct 19
Oct 19

Are you be willing to share your story on Via Table Talk Conversations? We're looking for guest with stories such as yours. Via Table Talk Conversations brings real-life topics, issues, and prayerfully some solutions to the table, using live social media platforms such as Zoom, Facebook, YouTube and other web-based communities to bring awareness to others around the world.

wanico
Oct 22
Oct 22

Hello Y'olanda thank you for your comments and interest in this real life story. I will gladly participate in this initiative. We can continue on my mail
[email protected]

Lady D_host
Oct 23
Oct 23

I have sent you an email with the details.

Kabahenda
yesterday
yesterday

Dear Wanico,

Thank you very much for sharing your story and bringing the dire situation of women in war-affected areas of Cameroon.
You have raised a critical and neglected issue: the mental health of of girls and women victims of armed conflict and its by product-gender based violence, including rape, unintended pregnancies, and all kinds of mental distress.
It is very unfortunate that women and young girls bear the brunt of these conflicts.
The mental health situation of these girls and women in your country and in so many other parts of Africa requires urgent attention by African governments and the African Union.
I would strongly encourage you to share your findings with the Ministry of Health in your country, women's organizations, and church and community elders.
Dealing with this situation needs to start at the level of village communities.
Please keep up the good work. All the best.

wanico
yesterday
yesterday

Thank you dear sister. We are proposing the creation of community based support mechanism as safe spaces for victims to tell their stories in the presence of some community morally respected individuals without fear of stigmatization. It's a shame we have to be going through this from fellow folks

Hello, Wanico,

The women and girls in Cameroons are always in my thoughts and prayers. Thank you for being there for Mary and many like here, where you listen and document their stories. You are all so tough, strong, brave, and resilient to be living in Cameroon right now, not to mention the world is still in a pandemic. I did hope that COVID-19 would stop the crisis, but unfortunately, it worsened it.

Please stay safe.