Voices of resilience

Amplifying mental health and psychosocial support to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence to help restore peace

June 12, 2024

During and after conflict, mental health and psychosocial support is critical to help survivors of sexual and gender-based violence reintegrate into their communities and contribute to peacebuilding.

UNDP Photo

“For over 13 years we never had the opportunity to have a peaceful conversation,” said Modou Satou Secka, an exiled survivor of the conflict in The Gambia.

He joined local authorities, women representatives and religious and traditional leaders in a community dialogue in the town of Farafenni, promoted by the Women’s Association for Victim’s Empowerment (WAVE). Sixty participants discussed issues related to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and solutions to discrimination and stigmatization, recognizing trauma triggers and how to address them. 

“I am hopeful that we will continue to support each other henceforth,” Modou said.

WAVE is a local organization supported by the UN Peacebuilding Fund, UNDP, the United Nations Population Fund and the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, in an initiative to integrate mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) into peacebuilding efforts and help survivors of sexual and gender-based violence reclaim their lives, heal from trauma, and rebuild their sense of dignity and resilience. 

“The partnership is providing a sustainable platform where victims can be supported and empowered to be drivers of change,” said Priscilla Yagu Shalom Ceesay, founder and Executive Director of WAVE.

In conflicts and fragile settings, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) against women and girls is exacerbated, with devastating long-term mental health and psychosocial impacts on survivors. The emotional impact of violence diminishes their trust, causing fear, social divisions and stress associated with ongoing insecurity. 

For survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in conflicts, mental health and psychosocial support is essential to their ability to reintegrate into their communities and to support the peacebuilding process.

Members of a women's group are shown posing for a group photo and engaging in discussion.

UNDP partners with governments, women's organizations and other civil society groups to address mental health needs in conflict-affected communities.

Photos: Women in Liberation & Leadership

Yet mental health services are not available to all survivors of SGBV. On the ground action is helping to heal these ‘invisible wounds’ and avoid the spread of violence, helping communities and countries in the recovery and peacebuilding process. 

The provision of MHPSS has yielded significant outcomes in different regions of The Gambia. Survivors of SGBV can seek support in 11 facilities equipped with trained social and health workers. Additionally, technology has proved to be a powerful ally. In the past two years, helplines provided mental health, psychological and legal aid services to nearly 500 survivors.

Radio and local talk shows are informing the population and raising awareness among men, youth and women on peacebuilding, de-stigmatization of mental health and the need to access services. Locally known as “kenelengs”, 30 communicators completed training on developing songs, satires and short dramas to communicate messages on the SGBV helplines and one-stop centres, and encourage the use of MHPSS services. Over 1,200 community members are capacitated to provide initial support to survivors of SGBV. 

Focal points in the Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violation were also trained and equipped to report SGBV cases and provide basic psychosocial support to survivors within their regions. 

“The partnership is providing a sustainable platform where victims can be supported and empowered to be drivers of change.”
- Priscilla Yagu Shalom Ceesay, Founder and Executive Director, Women’s Association for Victim’s Empowerment

Restoring psycho-mental and economic capacities

In Burundi, the ongoing crises forced women to flee the country during the last four decades, leaving them vulnerable to SGBV. Through the UN Peacebuilding Fund, UNDP is contributing to the peace process with the restoration of the psycho-mental and economic capacities of women, police officers, ex-combatants, returnees and survivors of gender-based violence. 

"When I joined the National Police, my ultimate goal was to be able to take revenge against those who killed my parents during the crisis, but with the project trauma healing activities, I took the path of forgiveness and reconciliation,'" said Marie*, a police officer.

Some 2,500 women from 11 communities have already received MHPSS services from the project to help them rebuild their lives and livelihoods. A survey conducted in 2023 revealed that 95 percent of participants could improve their incomes after taking care of their mental health. 

"Before the project, there were about 50 cases of complaints per month from women, some of whom were chased away, others beaten by their husbands," said Aria*, a local administrator capacitated by the project. Now she’s happy to highlight that she can go a whole week without registering a single complaint.

The project was implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Interior, the Community Development and Public Security Care About Patients Ministries (CAPAMI), and the Association of Women Repatriated from Burundi (AFRABU). 

In communities in remote areas of Burundi, UNDP has been engaging local leaders and organizations to promote the importance of taking care of mental health issues. In 2023, several workshops capacitated psycho-social agents to provide support to survivors of SGBV.

In 21 countries, UNDP has integrated mental health and psychosocial support in peacebuilding efforts to help survivors heal their trauma and strengthen peace.

Photos: UNDP Kazakhstan

Healing minds

In 21 countries, UNDP has integrated MHPSS in peacebuilding efforts to help survivors heal their trauma and rebuild peace in conflict and fragile settings. In a world of continuous crises, MHPSS is fundamental to secure the dignity of every individual, building confidence and healing minds from traumas.

“After the training, I am confident as a survivor to render psychosocial first aid services to victims and survivors. This has built my confidence and has motivated me to provide more support,” said an anonymous survivor of SGBV that joined the dialogues in the town of Farafenni in The Gambia.

For information on UNDP’s work on MHPSS in peacebuilding, please contact Nika Saeedi, UNDP Global MHPSS Lead at nika.saeedi@undp.org.