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‘How women empowerment can boost healing process of armed conflict victims’

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Most community-based approaches to peace building failed largely due to the relegation and disempowerment of women in the design and implementation of peace building projects. 

A university don, Dr. Juliet Yop Pwajok, who stated this while presenting a paper at a conference organised by the Charis Healthcare and Community Support Initiative with support from Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung on ‘The impact of historic trauma and violence on peace building: community based approach’ explained that patriarchal systems had made peace building a man’s affair. 

She submitted that the cycle needed to be broken because women were not only survivors or victims of violence, but should be considered as driving forces that facilitate all practical approaches at sustainable peace such as trauma and healing programmes.

Dr. Pwajok stressed that a wide range of healing strategies have been used in different contexts, and they can be useful sources of inspiration and guidance when building a healing programme.

She observed that all approaches should ideally emanate out of local contexts and should be gender sensitive while multiple strategies should be utilised simultaneously.

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According to her, the design and implementation of any post-conflict intervention located from the past experiences of victims and survivors of violence has the potential to engender sustainable peace building processes.

“Often times, trauma studies pay emphasis on the historical trajectories of the violence or war, this is basically to unbundle the very conditions that gave rise to violence in the first instance. Be that as it may, it will be important to note that confronting a violent path filled with human rights abuses, a history of devastation and moving peacefully into the future is not easy at all neither at individual and community levels,” she stated.

She hinted that devastating beliefs were likely to cause real anxiety and disunity amongst members of a community, saying in order to achieve peaceful coexistence and stability, tensions and emotions need to be dealt with or erased.
 
She added: “To strike out or to remove destructive and painful memories entails engaging conflicting parties in a functional peace building process. This is an ongoing process; it does not just happen at the pronouncement of peace or a resolution statement. On the other hand, this takes time and entails continued engagement of the parties involved and also by including all levels of society.”

Pwajok noted that reconciliations were likely not to be achieved through structural means alone, even though the psychological process may be enhanced and or propelled by the rearrangement of the structures.

The psychological processes which both sides of the conflict need to undergo include not only a change in beliefs about the goals of the group, but also a changed perception about the situation and identity of oneself.

The Director, Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace (DREP) Centre, Jos, Reverend Father Blaise James said the most important capacity required for effectively addressing violence and traumatic problems resides not at the level of the international community, but within the societies facing the challenge.

He said: “The success of peace building strategies reaching out to engage violent actors in violence mitigation and transformation processes requires local expertise in the design and implementation of action research and dialogue processes. Fostering the development of such capacities in practitioners’ networks will render these capacities more readily accessible.” 

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He added that foundational knowledge and understanding of trauma should be a part of healthcare education at all levels and disciplines.

“This must be coupled with universal trauma precautions to prevent traumatization in medical settings and to mitigate transmission and spread between individuals, within families, among communities, and in the healthcare workforce. To do this requires a commitment on the part of our healthcare institutions and systems of care to regular training on trauma including, its current definitions and concepts, prevalence, the mechanisms through which it manifests in the body and drives disparities. This knowledge must be continuously reinforced and applied to enhance and sustain trauma-informed practices,” he submitted. 

He also held that while trauma is a part of the human experience, it is clear that Nigeria is in the midst of a public health crisis, saying, “healthcare clinicians, peace builders, administrators and leaders have a critical role to play in responding through identification and prevention of poor health out-comes for their patients. In an ideal context, a bottom-up, locally led process would be adopted by all stakeholders addressing large-scale violence issues, whether they do so from a development or security perspective. In this sequential process, stakeholders would aim to: understand the problem at a societal level and map actors and issues in it; gather all the relevant state agencies and social actors for a multi-stakeholder analysis of the situation and the design of a comprehensive and holistic strategy; and design and implement corresponding responses that span across relevant policy areas and provide their own platforms for state-society collaboration.”

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