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Teresa Achol


The mental health of women in Kakuma Refugee Camp is affected by many factors.

For example, when a woman has to deal with domestic violence, a family will think that they know how to handle their issues with no third party involved.  However, if the situation can’t be solved by the family, leaders in the community will intervene.  Gender equality is not considered in this reconciliation.  The woman’s side of the story is not heard and she is looked down upon – she goes home with guilt and stress.  Without a safe space where she is given the right to speak out, she keeps her feelings to herself which leads to mental breakdown.

Most women are single mothers with at least six plus children.  They take care of them by themselves, running up and down, hustling for food to eat as the UN and its corporate team do not give enough to families.  They often only eat one meal in a day or go through the day without any food.  Women have more responsibilities than men, searching for clothing, doing laundry, going out for food distribution, getting firewood and house duties.  The stress of all this leads to mental illness.

I recently came a across a story whereby a celebrity in Tanzania said that she enjoys being physically abused because he pacifies her afterward and that it is the best thing that could happen to her.  I sat down with a few of my friends and came to the conclusion that she is dissociating from the reality of the abuse to cope. 

Many women refugees are experiencing dissociation and don’t know it.  They have been experiencing abuse for so long that instead of seeing it as a negative issue, they start embracing it.  They see the positivity in their situation so they won’t feel worthless.   

They do not seek help and cover up their problems.  When people confront them about the issue, they say they understand the abuse is “discipline”.  They say they can’t leave because of the children. Others say they love their partner and cannot imagine living without them. Which begs the question, how can you love someone so much more than yourself? Some women have lost their lives at the hands of their partners.

It is a high time that refugee women learn to put themselves first, especially in relationships.  You are supposed to love yourself first before loving the other person. Learning to live with an abusive partner should be a thing of the past.

Being beaten by your partner is not normal and if you see it as normal, it is a sign of a mental health issue. There should be no excuse for physical abuse or emotional abuse. Your mental health is important and no one is allowed to mess with that.

There are people you can approach if you ever find yourself in such a situation. A family member is a good start. Whether it is a parent, a sibling, a cousin, just find a family member you can trust and tell them what you are going through. Talking to friends or church leaders is also helpful.  You can also seek professional help from therapists, psychiatrists and counselors who are trained to deal with such situations.