In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) survivors of sexual violence face rejection from their families and are at heightened risk of poor mental health as the result of such trauma. Women who experience stigma from their families and communities may also be less likely to have a steady income as their partners may ostracize them from their homes or be unable to access money to start a small business. The negative economic and mental health effects of stigma from sexual violence are compounded in Eastern DRC, which is typified by pervasive poverty, inequitable gender norms, and insecurity.
To address the burden of social stigma, poor mental health, and poverty among female survivors of sexual violence in the DRC, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) implemented a group savings programme that would provide a forum for social support for women, as well as an avenue to increase their own savings and business opportunities. The evaluation, led by Dr. Judy Bass at Johns Hopkins University (JHU), found that although the group savings programme improved certain aspects of social and economic wellbeing among women, it did not confer improvements in mental health for survivors of sexual violence in Eastern DRC.
Through What Works Component 2: Violence against Women and Girls in Conflict and Humanitarian Crises, the IRC was able to take a deeper look into programming impacts through a secondary data analysis, conducted by researchers at JHU. In particular, the IRC was interested in learning more about how group savings actually impacted women’s experiences of stigma.
They found that women who were in the group savings programme experienced a statistically significant reduction in felt stigma over time, compared to women in the waitlist group. These reductions in stigma could be due to increased social support from other women in the group-based program or through increased economic wellbeing, which could strengthen resilience against stigma. Although the overall trial had limited impact on mental health improvements for survivors of violence, the reductions in stigma felt by women in the group savings program may demonstrate an important first step to improving their mental health over time.