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In an interview with Arab News, Sheikha Intisar AlSabah discusses the actions on the ground taken to mitigate the impact of conflict on women in the Middle East and the importance of drama therapy as a tool for this purpose.
International organizations providing support to conflict-affected groups tend to focus primarily on children and meeting basic needs, disregarding the need for psychological support. This oversight is due to many factors, including a lack of cultural awareness of the importance of psychological care.
The Intisar Foundation has been active in supporting women in the region through several initiatives, including the 1 Million Arab Women Initiative, a 30-year plan to alleviate psychological trauma in 1 million Arab women through drama therapy.
Women in Business and Politics
Continuing the legacy of her predecessors who laid the foundations for women in the Kuwaiti and regional private sectors in business and entrepreneurship, Sheikha Intisar advocates for gender equality in business. “The balance comes from the participation of women,” she said, emphasizing the added value of women’s contribution to strategy and operations in all sectors.
Sheikha Intisar also advocates for women’s participation in politics as they often bring a different mindset and approach to conflict resolution by being more collaborative than their male counterparts.
“I don’t do politics; I am into improving people. Having only men make and enforce laws is not for the good of society,” she said.
The Intisar Foundation
The Intisar Foundation was created in 2017 to address the lack of attention given to mental health and the lack of psychological support for women. “Most humanitarian organizations don’t think about women, and women don’t allow themselves to come first,” said Sheikha Intisar.
The foundation is the result of field research conducted in Jordan and Lebanon – two countries hosting the largest number of refugees in the region – to assess the provision of psychological interventions for war-affected women.
“What was offered was very limited,” said Sheikha Intisar, adding that women were not taking advantage of services because of the stigma associated with seeking psychological help. There was a need to raise awareness and acceptance of mental health issues in the region.
“Even if women don’t care about society’s perception, their families do, which makes it harder for them to get the psychological support they need,” Sheikha Intisar added.
A victim of war and understanding its implications, Sheikha Intisar sought a creative solution by turning to the arts. “Art is a form of social interaction, an activity rather than an individual session with a psychologist.”
Drama therapy could serve women in this way, bringing them together in a safe environment and enabling impactful psychological care, “with a fun sugar coating,” said Sheikha Intisar, who is socially accepted.
Women have been shown to gain harmony within themselves and within the group, sharing their stories after realizing they are not alone and everyone has a unique story.
Participant testimonials and available statistics measure the impact of drama therapy, backed by ongoing research to “support women in the Arab world and support the peace process,” the foundation’s goal.
Drama therapy as a field of research
Drama therapy highlights the importance of culturally appropriate psychological support programs.
To this end, the Intisar Foundation has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in Lebanon, the only university in the Arab world offering a master’s program in drama therapy, with the objective of supporting graduates opting for the curriculum.
The foundation engages theater groups in the Arab world and works with specialists in the field to adapt a training program that can be used to support women.
The activities of the theater groups will extend to a minimum of six Arab countries, including Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The foundation, a UK-registered non-governmental organization, works with local NGOs to reach out to target communities and invite women to participate in workshops.
The role of drama therapy
One of the main findings of the research conducted suggests that women who released their trauma became more peaceful, which resulted in a change in attitude in the household and better communication within the family and community. the community at large. In a domino effect, allowing the mother to speak up also encouraged her children to reciprocate. With a drama therapy workshop involving an average of 20 women, each participant impacts the lives of six indirect beneficiaries.
To date, the Intisar Foundation has reached around 500 women, carrying out over 3,500 hours of work in the field. With the pandemic, much of the foundation’s initiatives have been conducted online to maintain and expand its reach in the Arab world.
The latest results from a survey of Lebanese, Jordanian, Syrian and Palestinian participants following a theater therapy program in Lebanon recorded a reduction in depression (64%) and anxiety (53%), as well as than an increase in self-esteem (68%). percent).
“Drama therapy allows women not only to express what they think and feel, but also to be aware of their feelings,” said Sheikha Intisar.
As a means of communication that goes beyond words and involves physical action, adopting different roles and reaching resolution, theater allows participants to express themselves in new and empowering ways. Women are given the opportunity to safely act out scenes depicting family experiences, such as early marriages, divorces and domestic violence, allowing them to work through their own traumas.
Theater activities focus on building women’s confidence, empowering them to be seen and heard, which then reflects on how they deal with their immediate environment. A more confident and assertive woman will in turn fight for her daughter to have access to education, thus stifling marriages at a younger age and impacting generations of girls and women to come.