In the words of Farha Abu Al Haija “To mend Jenin’s wounds, start with its women”.
Farha Abu Al Haija, 57 years old, lives in Jenin, the West Bank. She is the Director of “Not to Forget,” a local NGO that provides women and children with legal, social, and psychological aid, focusing mostly on vulnerable women and survivors of gender-based violence.
“Jenin camp’s residents have long reeled from recurrent loss, grieve and violence. The latest military operation was not the first trauma they have experienced, nor will it be the last.
Women and children are particularly impacted by such violence. Their mental health, already strained, can be further eroded by exposure to successive traumatic events. Living conditions in the crowded camp were already extremely difficult for its women residents. Besides the hardships of living in a refugee camp, women risk experiencing personal loss of their husbands, children, and relatives. Moreover, the prevailing insecurity and economic pressures aggravate gender-based violence. Women also face economic marginalization due to gender-based discrimination, and the lack of decent work opportunities. Economic dependency renders women particularly vulnerable during crises.
Now the Israeli army has withdrawn from the camp, its residents, including those who were displaced, are now trying, yet again, to rebuild their lives. But rebuilding destroyed homes won’t be enough. Rebuilding mental wellbeing and psychosocial resilience is equally important.
Left unaddressed, traumatic experiences often have long-term psychological effects on those who have experienced or witnessed them. These traumas, coupled with widespread political and economic insecurity, can aggravate women and children’s mental distress, and strain their psychosocial well-being, negatively impacting their families and larger community.
Women have a critical role in helping their families heal from traumatic events and mending the wounds of communities torn apart by violence. Women who are unable to overcome stress and trauma won’t be able to help their families. That’s why my organization focuses on women and children. Our team of psychologists and sociologists reach out to the most vulnerable women and help them stand on their feet again through psychosocial counselling, group therapy and relief aid.
We do our best to reach out to as many vulnerable women as we can. But our relentless efforts still pale in the face of the great needs of the camp’s women residents. Many go without the help they badly need to cope with violence and trauma. Psychosocial support is often sidelined by more ‘urgent’ needs. But if we are to help the camp residents rebuild their lives, we need to dedicate more financing for psychosocial interventions, particularly for women, who often bear the brunt of violence and instability.