DUBAI: During an interview with Arabic News in FrenchSheikha Intisar Al Sabah discusses actions on the ground to mitigate the effects 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 basic needs, ignoring the need for psychological support. This omission is due to many factors, including a lack of cultural understanding of the importance of mental health 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 the psychological trauma of 1 million Arab women through drama therapy.
Women in business and politics
Continuing the legacy of her predecessors who laid the groundwork for women in the Kuwaiti and regional private sector in business and entrepreneurship, Sheikha Intisar advocates for gender equality in business. “The balance is achieved through the participation of women,” she said, highlighting the added value of women’s contributions to strategy and operations across all sectors.
Sheikha Intisar also advocates women’s participation in politics, as they often bring a different approach to conflict resolution, being more cooperative than their male counterparts.
“I don’t do politics; I help people progress. The fact that only men create laws and enforce them is not good for society,” she said.
The Intisar Foundation was established in 2017 to address the lack of attention to mental health and psychological support for women. “Most aid organizations don’t think about women, and women don’t let themselves come first,” Sheikha Intisar said.
The fund is the result of field research conducted in Jordan and Lebanon, two of the region’s largest refugee host countries, to evaluate the provision of psychological interventions to war-affected women.
“What was offered was very limited,” Sheikha Intisar said, adding that women do not use the services because of the stigma associated with seeking psychological help. There is a need to increase awareness and recognition of mental health issues in the region.
“Even if women don’t care about society’s perceptions, their families do, which makes it difficult for them to get the psychological support they need,” Sheikha Intisar added.
A victim of war and an understanding of its consequences, Sheikha Intisar sought a creative solution by turning to art. “Art is a form of social interaction, an activity, not an individual session with a psychologist.”
In this way, drama therapy can serve women by bringing them together in a safe environment and providing effective psychological care “with a fun sugary shell,” said Sheikha Intisar, who is socially acceptable.
Women have been shown to find harmony within themselves and within the group by sharing their stories after realizing that they are not alone and everyone else has a unique story.
Participant feedback and available statistics measure the impact of drama therapy, backed up by ongoing research aimed at “supporting women in the Arab world and supporting the peace process,” the foundation’s goal.
Drama Therapy as a Psychological Support Tool
Drama therapy emphasizes 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 Qaslik in Lebanon, the only university in the Arab world offering a master’s program in drama therapy, with the aim of supporting graduates who choose the study program.
The foundation engages theater groups in the Arab world and works with experts in the field to tailor a training program that can be used to support women.
The activities of theater groups will cover at least six Arab countries, including Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The Foundation, a UK-registered NGO, works with local NGOs to reach out to target communities and invite women to participate in workshops.
One of the main findings of the study suggests that women who let go of their trauma became more peaceful, which led to a change in attitudes in the household and improved communication in the family and the community as a whole. In a domino effect, allowing a mother to speak up also encouraged her children to reciprocate. In a drama therapy workshop with an average of 20 women, each participant impacts the lives of six indirect beneficiaries.
To date, the Intisar Foundation has reached around 500 women with over 3,500 field hours. During the pandemic, most of the fund’s initiatives have been implemented online in order to maintain and expand its presence in the Arab world.
The latest results of a survey of Lebanese, Jordanian, Syrian and Palestinian participants in the theater therapy program in Lebanon recorded a decrease in depression (64%) and anxiety (53%), as well as 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 medium of communication that goes beyond words to include physical action, taking on different roles, and reaching a decision, theater allows participants to express themselves in new and inspiring 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 with their own traumas.
Theatrical performances focus on building women’s confidence, allowing them to be seen and heard, which is then reflected in how they deal with their immediate surroundings. A more self-confident and assertive woman, in turn, will fight to ensure that her daughter has access to education, thereby suppressing marriage at a younger age and influencing future generations of girls and women.