Authors Wahba Hassanein, Ph.D., psychotherapist /trainer, Bol Buony, counseling supervisor, and Tet Puok, counseling supervisor, are with CVT Ethiopia-Gambella.
As part of our work in the Nguenyyiel camp in Gambella, Ethiopia, we took inspiration from the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) commemoration. When we plan to do any commemoration in our Ethiopia mission, we have different staff present in many places in the camp during the activities, as a part of appreciation for our clients and refugees in the camp. This is because we have the kind of relationship with them that allows us to meet them everywhere and anywhere as a part of humanity – when staff communicate directly with the refugees in the camp, it helps make mental health services accessible everywhere.
We made a plan to share information widely in the camp about the impacts of GBV. CVT’s psychotherapists, counseling supervisors, counselors, interpreters and psychosocial counselors marched together from block to block in the refugee camp. The weather was unusually balmy and it made the day more enjoyable for us to march. To ensure accessibility of the information, the clinical team rotationally read messages from a brochure we created and were handing out, and played songs that describe CVT’s work, composed by a local artist.
We chose to focus on different types of gender-based violence that align with what we are hearing from our clients, and to send them this message: “Your voice is being heard.” We also used the line “Say enough and put an end to GBV” as a key message in our commemoration materials.
It was a bit hard to keep good social distance because the key messages motivated women among the community, who would come up close to the team, to ask questions and listen to the message, making it more crowded than we wanted during a pandemic. But the staff kept reminding community members about keeping distance among themselves while providing the key messages.
The commemoration received high acceptance from the refugee community. Women voluntarily got involved in the march; they danced and sang traditional songs. Some women approached counselors and expressed their joy on the message they heard about stopping gender-based violence.
There was one woman who followed us and marched together with us for 20 minutes. Whenever the counseling supervisor read from the brochure and reached to the part about violence against women and girls – such as physical abuse, sexual violence, threats, arbitrary deprivation of liberty, forced marriage, violation of female’s educational right, psychological forms of violence and their impact on the person’s mental health – this woman would approach Bol Buony, counseling supervisor.
At first, the staff thought that she followed us because she wanted to ask for commemoration materials.So the staff spoke to the counselors responsible for that information during the march so they could communicate with her. But then we figured out that this was not her intention. She told us, “I am following you because I like listening to the message you are reading, nothing more.” As she walked along with CVT staff, she demonstrated through her participation how she appreciated CVT’s acknowledging and speaking against the violence she knew many women in the camp routinely suffer. The staff thanked her and acknowledged her support for the commemoration event. Staff then walked with her a little away from the march in order to have a more private conversation about the mental health and services we provide in CVT’s healing center.
This day is very important to the whole world because it raises awareness of how each of us is responsible for the gender bias in society, how such biases can create an environment that allows brutal violence to persist, and how GBV can cause negative feelings and difficult emotions for everyone, especially if he/she is trauma survivor.
We believe that whoever saves one life saves the world entire, so when one person feels she is being heard and recognized and her voice matters, this is can have a good impact for all the activities we are providing for our clients – whether mental health awareness , or prevention or intervention. This can extend our work on mental health and wellbeing for all the people.
Together, we can end gender-based violence.