Make It Happen for Women Affected By Torture and War

Make It Happen, the theme for 2015's International Women's Day, is an aspirational call to act. The message going out from organizations and government groups around the world is to take steps to advance women's rights and celebrate women's achievements.

At the Center for Victims of Torture, we work on a daily basis at our sites in Jordan, Kenya, Ethiopia and the United States with women who have been affected by war and torture. In a world where 48 percent of refugees are women and girls and where targeting women for rape is a routine war strategy, women and girls are disproportionately affected by traumatic situations due to conflict. We meet women like this every day. Women like Aminata, who was forced to join rebels in Sierra Leone to serve as their sex slave. Or girls like Sara who is unable to attend school because of the fear she has walking down the street simply because she is a girl.

As part of the healing process, we hear survivors describe what it means to be a woman in the middle of violence and crisis: It means that she may be targeted as part of organized use of rape as a weapon of war. She may be tortured or witness unspeakable acts. It means that she may face displacement and the challenges of maintaining her family without resources or money. She may face insurmountable loss -- of family members, of a career, of her way of life. It is through the counseling process that these women are often able to own their dignity and value, work through painful memories, and find strategies to move forward with their lives. As one woman said, "I was finally able to live again."

To make it happen for women in these circumstances, to support them in their ability to live again, we must understand that mental health is a basic human right. Women we routinely see need support to overcome the horrific experiences they have survived and access to resources that will help them begin to rebuild the foundations of a stable life. Mental health is often relegated as a secondary humanitarian response. From our experience, however, we know mental health services must be a primary response, particularly for women trying to keep their families together in the face of trauma and war.

If we truly wish to improve conditions and advance rights for women as we celebrate International Women's Day, let's make sure we include women who've been affected by torture and war. I ask the global community to Make It Happen by ensuring that mental health and psychosocial support are part of the response to crises around the world.