War trauma of Gaza women addressed in humanitarian assistance

Psychological support session for affected women, Gaza Strip. Photo by AISHA
Psychological support session for affected women, Gaza Strip. Photo by AISHA

The Aisha Association is a Gaza women’s organization established in 2009 to empower marginalized women through providing economic empowerment and psychosocial support. The Aisha Association identified the need for psychosocial support (PSS) and mental health services for women affected by the hostilities in Gaza in 2014. With funding of US$ 237,978 from the Humanitarian Pooled Fund (HPF), the organization provided PSS to women from neighbourhoods that experienced intensive Israeli attacks and heavy losses (Beit Hanoun and Ash-Shuja’iyeh).

The project supported approximately 4,600 married, divorced, widowed, abandoned and disabled women, residents of Beit Hanoun and Ash-Shuja’iyeh areas, over a period of six months (November 2014-April 2015). These women had experienced loss of family members, loss of their homes and/or were abandoned by their husbands during the summer 2014 hostilities. Many mothers who have lost their children experienced depression during the war. Their loss was associated with feelings of “guilt” for their failure to protect their children while surviving the war themselves.

“Kefaya”, a 40-year-old women with nine children, was abandoned by her husband at an UNRWA shelter immediately after the Israeli offensive 2014. Since then, she had been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and experienced significant trauma symptoms. She said “after participating in the sessions I decided to repair my damaged house and I started to think how I can start my own small business. Those sessions were the light at the end of the tunnel for me; the start to save my life and my family’s life from loss and fragmentation. Aisha Association staff also helped me to contact the Ministry of Social Affairs to obtain my share of the Ministry’s aid which is registered in my husband’s name.”

The project followed the “integrated individual empowerment approach” which was developed by Aisha after the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip in 2012, to better respond to the multiple needs of women with symptoms of trauma and PSTD. The approach combines PSS with protection and empowerment interventions. On the one hand, it ensured outreach to women who were most in need of PSS and faced obstacles in accessing such services whether due to economic reasons, care responsibilities, disability or old age. This was undertaken by partnering with Community Based Organizations in those communities to identify beneficiaries. The project also included mobile clinics to reach women in their communities and incorporated recreational activities that benefited children as well.

Another characteristic was the integration of a referral system to a range of services to ensure the wellbeing of beneficiaries, such as immediate humanitarian assistance, legal counselling, and economic assistance through Ministry of Social Affairs programmes. Specialized mental health counselling and treatment was provided for 100 women with severe cases of PSTD through the Gaza Mental Health Programme. Based on statistics from the pre-post assessment conducted by Aisha, a significant positive change in the psychological wellbeing of targeted women was detected over the six-month project implementation period.