The Importance of Focusing on Women’s Critical Mental Health Needs

Though the start of 2022 has brought with it continued global upheaval due to the pandemic and a devastating conflux of crises in Afghanistan, the first quarter of this new year is an important one for Together Women Rise, its grantee partners, and its members. For the first time, there is a deliberate focus on mental health and trauma recovery in this quarter.

Unfortunately, the original Featured Grantee for January, Afghanistan Libre, had to cease operations and withdraw all of its activities from Afghanistan due to ongoing security concerns, but the mental health focus continues in February with Common Threads Project’s innovative and evidence-based approach to trauma therapy. And, in March, we will fund The Center for Victims of Torture, which provides holistic, rehabilitative trauma care.

Clinical psychologist Jeanne Miller, Ph.D. and a member of Rise’s Grant Selection Committee, said there are several important facets of the upcoming projects. First, the projects include capacity building to help increase the number of mental health professionals in the areas served and to ensure they are qualified to address the mental health needs of the target populations in their area. In addition, in both areas served in Nepal and in Uganda, there is an extreme need for qualified mental health professionals. The focus of these projects will mean that there are trained mental health care providers available in areas of critical, generational need for years to come.

“And I think the third is that, although there are commonalities among the therapeutic approaches that are used in these programs, they have been designed to be culturally appropriate to the populations who are being served,” Miller said.

While the projects differ, they make important use of local cultural relevance, such as using story cloths in Nepal to “speak” about traumatic experiences, as well as promoting group support among the survivors. “For instance, Common Threads allows the women to form small support groups that will be self-sustaining,” Miller said. “In my clinical experience, women who are survivors of gender-based violence and/or abusive behavior benefit greatly from getting to know other women who have had similar experiences. As they see the worth in others, they rebuild their own sense of worth. It’s an important part of the healing process to reduce the sense of isolation that usually goes along with victimization.”

No matter the country or culture – and despite the differences in specific forms of violence – gender-based violence is a universal issue.

“The extreme example is The Center for Victims of Torture, where these women have been forced into military service or service as sex slaves,” Miller said. “When they come back to their community, they find that they are not wanted; they are feared and stigmatized. The children who they bore are equally stigmatized. It’s an extreme example of women who have experienced any kind of gender-based violence feeling isolated, stigmatized, and blamed.”

Miller said gender-based violence occurs in every community. Together Women Rise members will likely know someone who has experienced it and will have seen or felt someone’s pain in this regard. Some will have experienced it themselves. Nearly all will be able to relate to the women receiving treatment through these projects.

Beyond the individual and familial impact, this issue of GBV is a critical component of the fight for global gender equality, especially in areas steeped in conflict, such as those served by these projects. The healing made possible by these efforts is a step toward individual recovery and a change that can have a ripple effect toward a different future for all women.

“Gender-based violence is used as a weapon of war,” she said. “In these regions of conflict, gender equality just seems impossible as long as there’s no protection for women from being used in that way.”