Nakivale refugee settlement, established in 1958 is the largest hosting refugee settlement in Uganda and the 8th largest in the world (UNHCR, 2014). It is located in Isingiro district South West Uganda, and hosts over 81,260 refugees. Women and girls comprise almost half (49.6%) of Nakivale’s total population and of this percentage just over half (52.5%) are girls below 18 years. Refugee women and girls have unique challenges due to the fact that they are frequently vulnerable and need extra attention.
The psychosocial challenges that women and girls in Nakivale Refugee Settlement experience are not well known because no specific documentation of such challenges existed for Nakivale. This study sought to clearly explore the psychosocial challenges faced by refugee women and girls in Nakivale Settlement, in order to deliberately make informed recommendations as a mechanism towards providing meaningful context specific interventions by the various service providers.
This study employed both qualitative and quantitative methods. Data was collected from 200 women and girls through structured interviews, 153 women and girls through focus group discussions, in-depth interviews with 12 women, and 12 key informant interviews. Quantitative data was analyzed using SPSS and thematic analysis was used for the qualitative data.
Most of the respondents (34.5 %) were from DRC, in the age group of 18-35 years, living in nuclear families (52.5%) with children (50.5%) and were heads of their families (64.5%). The majority (55.5%) had stayed in the camp for over 5 years, and a bigger percentage (35.5) had never attained any level of education. Women noted a significant shortage of food in the camps with the majority (76.5%) experiencing challenges accessing food almost all the time. They complained of water sources being too far and few, with the majority (41.5%) always having trouble accessing water for daily use. Shelter and clothing were also mentioned as major problems, many staying in depleted houses with old roofing. Education of girl children is still low, with the majority (79%) finding a challenge in accessing universal primary education. More than two thirds of the women and girls complained of particular health concerns, and only a few (21.5%) have managed to get attention for these health concerns. The women reported a high proportion of psychological concerns, most having experienced physical, psychological and sexual torture/ violence both in their countries of origin and in Uganda. They live with the consequences such experiences including back pain, disability and psychological difficulties like PTSD, depression, and psychosis. A critical lack of mental health and medical staff was noted in the settlement. Economic challenges were also very present among the women, with only 3.5% having sufficient money to last them through the whole month. A few 37.5% of the respondents had running businesses, and others (29%) had ‘little’ money being generated from farming. A lack of capital and constraints in moving outside the settlement compounded the economic challenges, some resorting to survival sex and providing cheap/child labor in Kampala. Experiences of SGBV were very rampant, with 61 out of 200 respondents having experienced SGBV while in the settlement. Specifically, 24% had experienced domestic violence, followed by rape/ defilement at 19%. Respondents also mentioned that they had either experienced or witnessed cases of child abuse in the settlement. The most common form being child labor at 56.7%,and early marriage at 36.7%. FGM is a common practice within the Somali community and leaves the girls very helpless and at risk.
Despite the efforts of the government of Uganda and various support organizations in offering psychosocial support within the settlement, women and girls continue to face serious physical, economic, psychological and social difficulties. In fact, a closer look at their life manifests misery and frustration with the worsening circumstances they endure on a daily basis. What exists within the refugee camps is a fragmented model of service provision, which looks at each issue differently with minimal or no sustainable solution.
Recommendations to the psychosocial challenges majorly included;
» Need for service providers to find a holistic way of carefully analyzing, internalizing, and addressing the physical, social, economic, and psychological difficulties faced by refugees in settlement camps
» Increasing funds and engaging refugees in designing appropriate methods towards enhancing economic wellbeing and livelihoods for women and girls
» Putting in place strong measures to end SGBV being experienced by women and girls in the settlements, like engaging community based activities. Services should also be readily available to respond to the resultant effects of SGBV suffered » Child abuse and exploitation should be critically looked into, and specifically encouraging the education of girls will go a long way in empowering them
» Need to build the technical and financial capacity of serving organizations in identifying, handling and addressing psychological issues