Building women’s resilience and security in conflict and post conflict zones: the importance of psychosocial support through a gendered perspective

Building women’s resilience and security in conflict and post conflict zones: the importance of psychosocial support through a gendered perspective in peace processes.

Conflict and post conflict contexts, such as the Ukraine, Yemen, or in Afghanistan, represent a dangerous environment for women for several reasons: security concerns linked with the heightened risk of women and young girls being exposed to all kind of crimes, especially sexually related violence and abuses. One of the most important pillars of the 1325 Resolution, adopted from the Security Council on 31st October 2000, is related to the involvement and equal participation of women in conflict resolution, post conflict reconstruction, and peacebuilding activities. The 1325 Resolution focuses on women’s security, and  highlights the need for protection and prevention of sexual violence in armed conflicts. The involvement of women in the peace processes is usually an obstacle in several contexts: it’s difficult to create inclusive situation for women in reconstruction post conflict without facing the problem of their security. This has been highlighted by the UN Security Council Resolution 2467(2019), that strengthens justice and accountability based on a survivors-centred approach in the prevention and response to conflict-related sexual violence.

Women’s security and gender violence in conflict contexts

The current situation in Ukraine shows that sexual violence is still used as weapon of war in modern conflicts. Further, after the recent Hamas attacks of 7th October 2023, as reported by several organizations that are gathering evidence of these crimes, rape has been used during the terroristic attacks against Israeli women.

Another essential problem for women that face sexual violence is their exclusion from the community life: as evident in many post conflict situations, women that got pregnant as consequence of violence were cast away from the community. Children born from rape continue to be excluded from the community and deprived of education, as well as from all essential needs and citizen rights.

In general, women victims of sexual violence are often not allowed to work, neither to be part of political organizations nor governmental institutions.

The implementation of psychosocial support programmes from a gendered perspective to prepare communities to involve women

On one hand, regarding the inclusion, security and involvement of women in peace processes, attention and direction needs to be oriented in supportive programmes from a gendered perspective. When working with refugee women that escaped conflicts it is essential to apply programmes of psychosocial support to all the community. These programmes should be oriented from a gender perspective, helping the society to become more aware about gendered themes such as women rights, the role of women in the community, gender violence and its prevention.

On the other hand, regarding psychosocial support, the focus should be on the processes oriented to help and facilitate resilience in individual, family and community that face critical situations such as war, earthquake, climatic adversities and natural disaster, increasing the resilience capabilities of population and boosting the capacity to recover from catastrophic conditions.

In particular, the attention should focus on vulnerable groups such as children, victims of all kinds of violence, and women. To implement this programme, the principal steps are creating learning events for the community and provide training to explain how to manage emergency situations.

In this direction, it is necessary to insert education programmes about gender differences, and about how to boost the role of women in the society and their security. In this way the psychosocial and mental health programmes need to be integrated with a gender mainstreaming that concerns the process of integration of a gender perspective during the preparation, the implementation, the monitoring, and the evaluation of politics in the international operations. This strategy should focus on the integration of women and men’s specific needs and experiences to prevent and reduce the gender inequality, and to allow everybody to have access to the same opportunities.

The programme of psychosocial support in the Democratic Republic of Congo for women survivors of sexual violence

The plague of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a crime that continues to be perpetrated, especially in the last years, when attacks from the M23 militants resumed. The whole international community is monitoring the situation, in particular after Denis Mukwege, the Congolese gynaecologist and activist, received the Peace Nobel Prize in 2018 for his commitment to save the lives of women brutally raped from militants in DRC.

Different humanitarian organisations have implemented projects in the DRC to give access to legal and medical assistance to victims of sexual violence, as well as psychosocial support, as UNHCR reports. UNHCR, working with local organisation partners, especially in the region of Nord Kivu, has created a programme that has provided psychosocial support to 300 women. Using this programme and with training implemented from UNHCR and its partners, it has been possible to prepare the community leaders to defend women’s human right focusing on the importance to survivors’ women psychological support. Helping women to face their  traumas is essential to rebuild their life and to contribute to the growth of all the community.

Present and future for women in post conflict reconstruction and the implementation of psychosocial support programmes in conflict-affected communities

Implementing programmes of psychosocial support from a gendered perspective, is important for women in conflict and post-conflict contexts. It is particularly important that male leaders in society learn from these perspectives, in order to prevent situations of exclusion or isolation for survivors, and also to include women in reconstruction and peace processes oriented to an equality vision respecting women’s rights. To implement psychosocial support programmes, it’s vital to develop the resources of a community with the essential aim to build up its resilience, and to increase the active participation of women in society. However, it is also of importance to involve men in educational programmes oriented to respect gender differences in peace and reconstruction processes.