Mental wellbeing of women under Taliban rule- Survivor or thriver

August 22, 2021 11:28 AM

It becomes imperative to develop mindfulness in day to day activities, such that one can narrate a hopeful story to their inner world and body, rather than having an unhealthy narrative.

The Afghan women need to strike a balance between preparatory actions that are more efficient and those that are more effective.

By Dr Sumathi Chandrasekaran

We all live in a world filled with uncertainty. Humans are hardwired to survive in any situation, but to thrive, it’s always a choice depending on what kind of situation they live in. Transitioning from surviving to thriving is a far more challenging strength of mind than needless to say, joining a class or taking effort to exercise. It becomes all the more challenging as one could feel more threatened, alone and afraid, mainly in times of uncertainty and difficulties around them.

When we look into the current status of Afghanistan, people, particularly the mental and emotional wellbeing of women and children, it could definitely give us a grave picture. The inconsistent and unstable regime of Taliban has left the impact of mental health to be pervasive, long lasting, and inter-generational and often distressing to families and communities. The experiences of observing violence, losing loved ones, serving as a fighter, or being separated from family members certainly have mental health bearings.

Since 2002, under Afghan government rule, millions of Afghan girls from various cities have attended school and women have participated in public life, including holding political office, in greater numbers than ever before in Afghanistan’s history. However these gains were partial and insubstantial even in government-controlled areas. The number of girls in school nationwide began to drop after 2014, due to factors including rising insecurity, discrimination, corruption, and diminished funding.

Hence, over Generations, people have been born, during the conflict, and they have never known peacetime. It’s inevitable for a woman, in such an environment which demands constant vigilance,cautiousness, and “experiencing an unknown” to succumb easily to the environment and feel like a victim.

This inconsistent and uncertainty provocation, can seemingly have more impact on women and children. In fact the uncertainty biases the women’s ability to organize for and respond to future events, thus contributing to anxiety, worries, and even fears. Particularly Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, extreme social anxiety, General anxiety flare-ups, addiction, and codependency are the most common after effects which could take a toll on the emotional and social wellbeing of women and children. The country’s social fabric has now been deeply strained by conflict, impacting many aspects of daily life, from violence to un-employability and economic hardship. However, surviving adversity also leads to practices of resilience and endurance, and thus Afghan women can also be seen as thrive seekers.

It is also important to know that children, while growing in each stage of their life, will face conflicts that can result in gaining psychological strength, or being left with a weakness. These experiences subsequently have an impact on the child’s personality. In the current situation, how each woman surrenders or develops positive resilience will have a profound imprint in the development of the child’s mind.

One of the primary factors that determine women’s mental health would be the degree of uncertainty they experience and their level of mental preparedness. Women, who have high intolerance of uncertainty, only tend to worry more and also would find possible future negative events, unacceptable and threatening regardless of the probability of its occurrence. Presently the hard-lineIslamic group of Taliban, has tried to reassure Afghans since seizing power, promising that there would be no revenge, but there appears to be a gap between what they say and what they do. This could naturally lead to more uncertainty and intense arousal of those negative feelings brought by it.

The Afghan women need to strike a balance between preparatory actions that are more efficient and those that are more effective. Though women are found to be more sensitive to stress, more vulnerable to depression and trauma, they are also exceedingly resilient and considerably more capable of post-traumatic growth compared with men. Studies show that this is due to their sociability and ability to connect at a very deeper level with others of both genders. Changing the negative beliefs about uncertainty and improving coping strategies could be more practical for women in a family and thus influence the children in preparing for a resilient mind.

Mental health can be seen as a continuum or a spectrum rather than as a dual between who are doing well and those who are not. It’s not about just having a good intention, laughing, playing or achieving something, but it’s a conscious effort in aligning the way we think, feel and behave the same way. The conscious effort happens either in a state of hyper vigilance or mindfulness. In the context of continuous danger, and uncertainty, the women are mostly in hyper vigilance rather than a mindful state. This continuous hyper vigilance will only make the women tell disastrous stories to them in mind which in turn will put their brain to stress mode rather than calm mode. It’s a known fact that only in a calm state of mind irrespective of any situation one can take productive action.

It’s a matter of having control over their own nervous system. It becomes imperative to develop mindfulness in day to day activities, such that one can narrate a hopeful story to their inner world and body, rather than having an unhealthy narrative.

Let’s hope that this new regime will facilitate women to shift from surviving to thriving thereby creating the process of rewiring their brain. Are we creating unhealthy beliefs that could hold back from participating in healthy social change or loftier beliefs that could resonate and align with the larger part of the world?

(The author is a counselling Psychologist, certified Mindfulness Trainer, Happiness Coach and founder of Mind Café. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online)

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