How psychological support for women contributes to GDP
Mita Srinivasan
10X People

How psychological support for women contributes to GDP

Empowering women economically does not merely start with providing them with financial support, it starts with removing the psychological barriers that are deeply embedded within them. HH Sheikha Intisar AlSabah wrote this piece for SME10x to share how, in the long term, psychological support creates a sustainable and multi-dimensional approach to economic empowerment and an increase in national GDP.

Every generation of savvy innovators and entrepreneurs rediscovers that long-lasting success in business requires good mental health. Only recently, however, it has become socially acceptable to open up about one’s failures, fears, and struggles to keep up with the pressures of entrepreneurship.

This silent revolution in the business sector has helped spawn a new field of research on the mental health of entrepreneurs in order to help them continue facing the challenges of leading their ventures, successfully. It is important because studies have shown that small business development is one of the solutions to flagging economic growth - SMEs represent about 90 percent of business and more than 50 percent of employment worldwide (World Bank).

Therefore, maintaining good mental health is necessary for entrepreneurs to continue contributing to GDP, but what if the focus of our mental health support was to help prospective entrepreneurs to start or even imagine ever being able to own and run a venture?

That is the case of Fatima Khalife, a Syrian refugee living in Burj El Barjne refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon, one of the beneficiaries of Intisar Foundation’s drama therapy-based psychological support programmes for Arab women affected by war and violence. Khalife is also one of the women surveyed for our comprehensive study of how psychological support to women traumatised by war and violence leads to their self-empowerment, and in some cases, to the formation of new enterprises.

Just two years ago, Khalife could not have dreamed of ever owning and running a business. She also could not have imagined ever speaking again about the traumatic experiences and painful emotions she had been denying and suppressing since fleeing Syria in 2013 due to its ongoing civil war. She explained how the sessions helped her remove negativity from within. The sessions also helped her with her children.

Khalife explained that, at first, her participation in the Intisar Foundation’s programme seemed more like a fun activity, but after only three sessions, she understood the deeper and larger significance of the sessions. In addition, drama therapy helped her rediscover movement within her body, which had been restricted ever since the Syrian war had started. She also became aware that she had been using her voice only to express dissatisfaction and complaints, mostly during episodes of anger. After about five sessions, Khalife felt comfortable and safe enough to disclose personal information which she had not been able to share even with her therapist. Working with other traumatized women helped her to open up about the traumatic events which she had not spoken about in eight years.

Khalife’s testimony shows how a forced displacement strips a person of their personal identity and explains how the stress of living in overcrowded and unsafe camps turns refugees into people who they themselves no longer recognize. Today, Khalife is the founder of Al Sama Studio, a cooperative embroidery business that employs 35 women.

A number of Intisar Foundation’s case studies from Lebanon prove that psychological well-being plays an essential role in improving various aspects of the lives of women and the immediate families and communities around them. Firstly, it leads to an increase of positive development, such as the improvement of self-esteem and more positive emotional experiences, and secondly, to a decrease in negative psychological experiences, like low mood, irritability, flashbacks, stress and fatigue.

A pilot study conducted by Intisar Foundation in Shatila Refugee Camp in Lebanon between 2019 and 2020 using psychometric scales
A pilot study conducted by Intisar Foundation in Shatila Refugee Camp in Lebanon between 2019 and 2020 using psychometric scales
Supplied by Intisar Foundation

The simple explanation of this insight is that any person who is weighed down with their unresolved traumas will have little space and energy to grow and develop. A more complex explanation would be that the survivors of war and violence often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) comorbid with depression and anxiety. Those psychological issues will impact the brain, constantly keeping it in “fight or flight mode”, a survival focused state wherein the brain assumes that it is still in the same dangerous situation by which it was traumatised. This state leads to significant social and behavioural issues, with previous studies showing that PTSD is associated with physical health issues, suicidal behaviour, substance abuse, occupational and social difficulties, and even aggressive and violent behaviour.

The purpose of the study "The Power of Theatre Expression and Communication: A Psychological Therapeutic Intervention in a Refugee Camp: An IPA Study Into the Narratives of Women Refugees’ Experience With Drama Therapy" by Intisar Foundation was to enhance our understanding of how psychological support itself - without any training focused on business skills - leads to entrepreneurship.

On the basis of our findings, we aim to inspire a conversation about the role of psychological and economic empowerment of the most vulnerable among women in the stimulation of economic growth in a country.

About the author

HH Sheikha Intisar AlSabah is a philanthropist, entrepreneur, author, film producer, columnist, and a princess of the AlSabah family, the ruling family of Kuwait.

Her social enterprises (Intisars and Ebbarra) spearhead a new movement of women’s self- empowerment, while her non-profit organisations (Alnowair and Bareec) supplement the formal education system and improve organisational cultures in Kuwait with programmes in socio- emotional skills based upon positive psychology.