Helping displaced women and girls in Ag Geneina tackle the trauma of violence and displacement
Sawakin, 35, fled armed clashes that erupted in the Al Jebel neighbourhood of Ag Geneina, capital of West Darfur earlier in April. Sawakin’s house was torched and pillaged. Her family lost all their belongings, including food, livestock and clothes. Together with her husband and seven children, Sawakin fled the fighting and sought refuge at the Moheria Girls School IDP gathering point in town.
‘’During our first nights here, I was very scared and had difficulty sleeping - afraid of being attacked again. Fearing the unknown future and what I might face left me anxious and depressed. I still get painful flashbacks of my house burning. The sound of shooting still rings in my head,” Sawakin told aid workers when they visited the site on 24 June.
Similar to other IDP gathering sites in Ag Geneina, the Moheria Girls School is overcrowded with a lack of privacy and basic services such as water, sanitation and medical services, which put even more stress on displaced women and girls.
To provide some basics for her family, Sawakin found casual work at the local market, then switched to washing clothes and was receiving some humanitarian assistance to complement the family’s income. Her husband managed to find only some odd jobs that paid little.
Sawakin, along with many other women at the gathering sites, suffered from anxiety and depression exacerbated by a sense of detachment from her community and normal life. To seek treatment and help, she met with social workers deployed by the State Ministry of Social Development and the Child Development Fund who referred her to the women and girls space set up at the school by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). There, she received psychosocial support (PSS) services in the form of group sessions, orientation sessions and recreational activities.
The women and girls’ space created the opportunity to express herself and discuss her issues and concerns with other displaced women who had been through similar experiences. This newfound sense of community and comradery helped Sawakin to take on a proactive role at the women and girls’ space, volunteering her time to lead handcraft workshops on knitting and embroidery as well as raising awareness among her peers on gender-based violence (GBV) issues.
The women and girls spaces provide PSS, GBV referrals, dignity kits, awareness-raising and recreational activities. Women are referred to these spaces by social workers and volunteers that make up community-based protection networks.
To mitigate GBV risks associated with collecting firewood and charcoal outside the gathering sites, UNFPA offers workshops on making fuel-efficient stoves, thereby reducing the number of times women need to venture outside.
These temporary spaces are part of UNFPA’s integrated sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and GBV response, where social workers coordinate with midwives deployed by the State Ministry of Health for timely referrals to services including GBV, medical response, PSS, maternity care and family planning.
Sawakin is one of 1,500 women and girls who access the five UNFPA temporary safe spaces in Ag Geneina each month. Given the high number of IDPs and gathering sites in West Darfur, additional mobile SRH clinics and temporary women and girls spaces need to be set up; more trained social workers, psychologists and health care providers need to be deployed; community protection networks need to be expanded and strengthened; and dignity kits need to be distributed on a wider scale combined with awareness-raising activities to ensure access to quality SRH-GBV life-saving services and community support for all.