Colombia

Gender, mental health and resilience in armed conflict: listening to life stories of internally displaced women in Colombia

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Emilia Zamora-Moncayo, Rochelle A. Burgess, Laura Fonseca, Mónica González-Gort, Ritsuko Kakuma

Abstract

For over 60 years, Colombia has endured violent civil conflict forcibly displacing more than 8 million people. Recent efforts have begun to explore mental health consequences of these contexts, with an emphasis on national surveys. To date few Colombian studies explore mental health and well-being from a lived experience perspective. Those that do, overlook processes that enable survival. In response to this gap, we conducted a life history study of seven internally displaced Colombian women in the Cundinamarca department, analysing 18 interview sessions and 36 hours of transcripts. A thematic network analysis, informed by Latin-American perspectives on gender and critical resilience frameworks, explored women’s coping strategies in response to conflict-driven hardships related to mental well-being. Analysis illuminated that: (1) the gendered impacts of the armed conflict on women’s emotional well-being work through exacerbating historical gendered violence and inequality, intensifying existing emotional health challenges, and (2) coping strategies reflect women’s ability to mobilise cognitive, bodied, social, material and symbolic power and resources. Our findings highlight that the sociopolitical contexts of women’s lives are inseparable from their efforts to achieve mental well-being, and the value of deep narrative and historical work to capturing the complexity of women’s experiences within conflict settings. We suggest the importance of social interventions to support the mental health of women in conflict settings, in order to centre the social and political contexts faced by such marginalised groups within efforts to improve mental health.