Uganda: Gender Violence Top Cause of Stress Among Refugee Women – Report

The high prevalence of psychosocial distress and suicide among refugee families in northern region is due to gender-based violence, a new study indicates.

The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health on July 30 published research findings titled; Tolerance of Violence against Women and the Risk of Psychosocial Distress in Humanitarian Settings in Northern Uganda.

The research, conducted from three refugee hosting districts of Adjumani, Obongi, and Lamwo, examined the determinants of psychosocial stress.

It was found that the experience of psychosocial distress is higher among refugees than host populations.

The research also found out that violence against women can have direct health consequences related to injury or psychosocial distress such as anxiety, depression, and trauma, stress which may last longer after violence is no more.

According to the report, other negative health effects associated with violence include induced abortion, low birth weight, suicide, homicides, and alcohol disorders.

The results indicated that nearly 60 per cent of female respondents (refugees) who ever experienced psychosocial stress six months before the research believed that women should tolerate violence.

"Respondents who believed that women should tolerate violence experienced or had higher odds of psychosocial stress than their counterparts who believed a woman should not tolerate violence," the report reads in part.

The likelihood to experience psychosocial stress was higher among females (95 per cent), especially those with children in primary education as well as those who had less than Shs10,000 as income one month before the survey.

Gender inequality and oppression embodies relationships between them and their husbands because they (women) socialise within patriarchal settings characterised by social and gender norms that embody hegemonic masculinity.

"Such beliefs in humanitarian settings made both men and women normalise subordination of women through accepting attitudes and norms towards tolerance of violence," the report states.

According to the report, prevalence of gender-based violence has remained significantly high, especially against women as a result of living in such situations leading to severe regression, mental illness and suicide in some cases. For example, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registered an estimated 4,297 cases of gender-based violence in 12 refugee settlements between January and November 2019.

Given the linkages between tolerance of violence against women and social norms, the researchers recommended integration of social and gender norm changes in interventions aimed at preventing violence against women, and the associated psychosocial distresses.

Refugee numbers

More than 2 million South Sudanese, most of them women and children, have fled their homeland to escape a brutal conflict between the government and opposition parties with forty percent living in Uganda.

A 2018 joint assessment by UNHCR and partner organisations found that 19 per cent of refugee households in northern Uganda reported at least one family member suffered psychological distress or felt afraid.

It also noted that the fight against mental health had been severely challenged by shortage of funding. As of October 2019, Uganda's refugee response was funded at only 39 per cent of the financial requirements for the year.

Mental health services lacking

Despite high prevalence of gender-based violence and mental health trigger factors among the refugees, mental healthcare services have remained insufficient.

The number of suicides and attempts among South Sudanese refugees nearly doubled in 2019 unlike previously. The UN Refugee Agency, United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) found out that there were 97 suicide attempts, with 19 deaths.

Although mental illness and suicide is a common problem in the general population in north and West Nile regions, the problem has also escalated among refugee population in places such as Palorinya in Adjumani and Palabek-ogili in Lamwo District. At Palorinya Refugee settlement for example, findings established by this newspaper indicate priority problems of basic needs such as food, shelter, and healthcare access, alcohol and substance abuse and gender-based violence.

The situation was also found to be compounded by a complex interplay of social determinants like insecure asylum status, limited access to services, etc. that exacerbate psychological distress and mental health problems. In an internal UNHCR report, Palorinya settlement reported on numbers as high as one suicide case recorded per week for the month of April 2019. The UN refugee agency in its Refugee Response Plan 2019-2020, hints that a huge number of refugees with mental health needs remain underserved and mental health conditions continue to go undetected. The report recommends integrating mental health into public healthcare.

Source: The monitor

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