Various experts, officials and partner organisations came together in the Ugandan capital of Kampala on April 15 for a dialogue on mental health and psychosocial support for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Cordaid organised the event together with the Ugandan Legal Aid Service Providers Network and the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation.
During this meeting, the partners shared the results from research conducted in 2020, which examined the links between mental health and psychosocial support interventions and sexual and gender-based violence response mechanisms.
The report highlights the need to protect the large and vulnerable refugee and host populations in the northern part of the country from this type of violence. It also recommends prioritising mental health care services in the first response to these cases, to ensure the well-being of survivors, before pursuing any form of justice.
A holistic response
According to the Assistant Commissioner for the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development, Margaret Kyomukama, the need for implementing existing government policies on mental health care would be the next step in ensuring a holistic response.
“As our policy stipulates, sexual and gender-based violence cannot be tackled alone”, Margaret Kyomukama says. “It takes a multisectoral approach. Organisations should work closely with community action groups, because while there is a limitation to what service providers can do, in the community there is a tremendous workforce that can address the issues of sexual and gender-based violence, mainly in prevention.”
The organisers of the event also presented a practical and educational toolkit consisting of a board game, memory cards and facilitators’ guides, aimed at increasing awareness about sexual and gender-based violence, referral pathways, enhancing the capacity of counsellors and the roles of community members, among others.
The country director for Cordaid in Uganda, Petra van Haren, highlighted the importance of bringing mental health care services to the affected populations. “During the COVID-19 lockdown period, we saw an increase in the number of mental health cases caused by sexual and gender-based violence. Moving people from the outskirts closer to other communities, to police, and to health care makes them feel safer and gives them better access to support. The toolkit should encourage people to seek help from those around them, as well as from the authorities. It should end the silence on mental health and psychosocial needs.”
Prioritise mental health care
The interactive event, including a gallery walk, panel discussions and testimonials from survivors, raised awareness about this poignant issue and galvanised discussions about a multi-sectoral collaboration and the necessary synergies to strengthen the structures and to prioritise mental health care services.