Anusanthee Pillay and Janaka Jayawickrama - Double Bind of Wellbeing and Transformation of Women in Crisis




According to the Constitution of the World Health Organisation (1948), health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. According to many scholars, this definition needs to be updated to include social well-being. In a world where disasters, conflicts and development challenges are in the rise, the WHO definition of health is no longer fit for purpose. Based on the experiences from conflict and disaster affected settings in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, the authors argue that women face a double bind of burden of being displaced as well as caring for their families. In this, the social, cultural, political, economic and environmental challenges experienced by women needs to be considered in understanding violence against women and health within crisis contexts. The uncertain and dangerous conditions created by crises, structural discrimination and existing patriarchal practices within their own communities place women at a distinct disadvantage to cater for their own health and wellbeing as well as overall protection against violence. The authors argue that humanitarian responses need to instigate, within other interventions, structural changes to facilitate self-leadership of women with regard to taking charge of their health and well-being in crisis situations. Further, this paper advocates that through this process women will be able to transform themselves, harnessing their inherent wisdom and agency to effectively deal with violence against women and improve their health particularly from a social well-being perspective.


About the Authors:

Anu is a South African feminist activist on violence against women, who has been involved with transforming gender relations and gender inequality in the Southern Africa region for more than 30 years. For the past 10 years she has been working with gender transformation concerns in disaster and conflict-affected countries as an emergency responder in the United Nations response operations around the world. Anu has focused her work on understanding the gendered nature of conflict and disaster and has been influential in advancing the notion that social upheavals and crises shift gender relations, which can be harnessed for positive gain in transforming gender equality for women. She is currently reading for her PhD at the University of York,  UK.

Janaka is a Sri Lankan community care worker who has been collaborating on issues of disaster, conflict and uneven development affected women, men, children, youth, elderly and people with disability in Asia, Africa and the Middle East over the last 25 years. Currently, he is an Associate Professor in Community Wellbeing at the Department of Health Sciences of the University of York in the UK. Over the years, Janaka’s work has influenced the humanitarian policy and practice to recognise the affected communities as first responders to any catastrophe.