We support women and girls in war and crisis zones
12. May 2022 - News

West Africa: Counselling for women beyond borders

In Sierra Leone and Liberia, sexualised violence is very widespread. Rape is the second most commonly reported major crime. Women who experienced violence need protection and offers of counselling – but instead, they are often left alone or ostracised. Together with local women’s rights organisations, medica mondiale has developed a programme to improve the assistance available to women.

Liz Greene smiles into the camera.

Once upon a time there was a palm tree – healthy, young and happy. One day a very angry man came along. He wanted the palm tree to stop being so happy and threw a rock into its crown. This hurt the palm. It tried to shake off the rock but couldn’t. The rock kept pressing down on the palm – until the palm gave up its struggle and it sank down. However, as it went lower and lower, eventually its roots found water and the palm tree gained new power. It started growing upwards again.

This is a parable told by Liz Greene from the partner organisation medica Liberia. The rock symbolises the experiences of violence which many women in Liberia, and the whole region, are subjected to. The water stands for the things that give us strength – the women can manage to keep on living after these traumatic experiences. So there is hope, even when times are difficult and pain is severe.

Stress- and trauma-sensitive support: Survivors help survivors

Liz Greene is a psychosocial counsellor and knows it is hard to speak about violence and rape. This type of story can help to verbalise the experiences – for those affected, but also for the counsellors. After all, as women many of them have also experienced violence.

In 2022 Liz Greene is holding some special, interactive training courses. She is training staff members from three women’s organisations in the neighbouring country of Sierra Leone on how to provide stress- and trauma-sensitive support to women affected by violence. This special approach has been jointly developed by medica mondiale – and it is having beneficial impacts.

Sexualised violence: Women receive blame instead of support

In Sierra Leone, too, many women are experiencing sexualised violence. As in Liberia, women do not benefit from sufficient assistance, even when they find the courage to seek help. Laws have been passed, but they are rarely enforced and it is not uncommon for the women to be subject to blame from the counselling points, doctors or police they turn to. For these reasons, it is important to build up the local expertise.

Trainings for long-term counselling for survivors

Together with medica Liberia, medica mondiale has trained trainers in order to ensure long-term provision of professional counselling for women in Liberia and the West Africa region. These women run training courses for staff at other organisations, public authorities, and healthcare institutions. They also train further trainers in how to deliver stress- and trauma-sensitive support for survivors of violence, leading to a snowball effect with sustainable, long-term impacts.

Appeared in memo 2022/1 (german)