Dr. Bilqis Jubari: The woman who makes women’s voices heard

Dr. Bilqis Jubari: The woman who makes women’s voices heard.

I was born in an educated family, in a traditional, conservative society. The society looked and still looks down on women and does not equate them with men in anything. Yemeni women are conceived to be of less intellectual abilities than men and their rights are not acknowledged. That is why domestic violence against women was a general feature of Yemeni society, and women accepted it as a normal condition, even from their younger male relatives. If a woman gives birth to a baby boy, this would be a source of pride for her and her husband, but if she gives birth to baby girl, this will cause her husband to degrade her and may marry another woman that may give birth to a baby boy.

Since my childhood, I realized that I was luckier than the most of the females around me. I always rejected the violent practices that I witnessed against women in the community and the violation of their rights. I had a dream to continue my education in the field in which I will be able to help the largest number of females who face violence, discrimination and who need help.

I dedicated my life to this task from an early age and I joined the psychology department of Sana’a University for this purpose. My master degree focused on studying the psychological stressors that women are exposed to; my PhD discussed the marital adjustment and its relationship to children's psychological well-being. However, my undergraduate and postgraduate studies at Sana'a University did not give me the practical tools and professional skills to provide counseling and effective psychotherapy. In this regard, I applied for a regional competition for the US Fulbright Scholarship for the Psychotherapy Program and won it. During my studies in the program (2003-2005) at the College of Counseling and Psychotherapy at Towson University, Maryland, I excelled and was ranked first in the program for the year of 2005.

I worked as a therapist and health educator at the Glenwood Counseling Center in which this experience made a fundamental shift in my knowledge, skills, and experiences in psychological counseling. Though I had a tempting offer to continue working in the center, I preferred to return to Yemen and achieve my dream of helping women who are subjected to violence and various psychological stressors being the first and only female in Yemen to have this degree in counseling and psychotherapy at that time.

As soon as I returned to Yemen in 2006, I resumed teaching at the Department of Psychology at Sana'a University, and this helped me spread awareness of the importance of mental health services for hundreds of students. In the same year, I was appointed vice president of the Educational and Psychological Counseling Center at Sana’a University and then the head of the center. I also kept providing psychotherapy sessions in the center’s clinic for students especially females; I treated hundreds of females and trained dozens of students in self-assertiveness skills.

I brought about a major shift in the center’s methodology and approach in dealing with university students who had come to the center for psychological treatment mostly affected by gender-based violence, specifically domestic violence. Because of the success I achieved in this center, the students brought their mothers, relatives and friends to seek treatment. However, the university’s policy and protocol do not allow treatment to be received by others who are not affiliated members of the university.

In response to the need, I decided to establish an independent, non-profit center outside the university to receive cases that the university’s center does not. The Family Counseling & Development Foundation was established on 1/8/2011, the year that coincided with the Yemeni youth uprising or what was called the Yemeni Spring. However, this spring did not last long and turned into a harsh winter resulting in a fierce war that exploded in the face of the Yemenis, which killed hundreds of thousands of people and caused the largest humanitarian crisis on the planet in the modern era.

FCDF had to deal with the existing challenges, which are numerous, that Yemeni people, women in particular, are facing as a result of the war. Since the establishment of the foundation and under my management and my supervision for over a decade, with the generous support of Kingdom of the Netherlands and UNFPA, we have received and treated more than two hundred thousand cases from all parts of Yemen; today we are the largest foundation that provides integrated mental health services in two main centers located in major governorates Sana’a and Aden and some of these services reach all governorates of the country.

What distinguishes us is that we have the largest team of specialized psychotherapists and psychiatrists, with more than 53 specialists, 66% of them are females. We continuously train them and develop their skills by the best professionals in the field inside or outside Yemen.

For the first time in Yemen, we have established a toll-free helpline (136) for psychosocial counseling to cover all governorates of the Republic, through which persons in need for psychological services can receive counseling services by dialing (136) from any landline or mobile network. During the past five years, the psychosocial counseling helpline helped more than one hundred thousand and seventy two people, out of which 71% were females. The cornerstone upon which the psychosocial counseling helpline was established is to allow women subjected to oppression and domestic violence to contact the foundation to present their complaint and request counseling without the supervision of their male relatives who will never allow them to do so; we have saved hundreds of females and males from suicide by calling this helpline.

We have also established a number of psychological clinics specialized in treatment and counseling providing psychotherapy and psychiatry services including free psychotropic medicines. Because the Yemeni society is a very poor, the foundation has become the only place for these many poor patients who cannot pay for the psychological care and medicines provided by hospitals and private clinics. More than (18000) received psychotherapy sessions and free psychotropic medicines by the foundation in the past three years.

FCDF established almost the only free inpatient unit in such high standards in the northern region of Yemen admitting female severe cases of mental health disorders, some of whom were beaten to exorcise demons from their bodies and some were tied in chains and shackles locked up in their homes fearing shame. During the past two years, we received more than 203 women in the inpatient unit, who received care and treatment free of charge and with the consent of their guardians, which was never acceptable in the past.

Another distinctive feature of the foundation is that it provides a comprehensive program for treating mental disorders at the individual and family level. Considering the community traditions, psychologically affected females receive treatment, counseling, and medication from female specialists. We also work to treat the state of turmoil and violence from its roots, so that we contact male perpetrators and encourage them to receive counseling and treatment services. We also treat their children who have been psychologically affected as a result of violence within the family.

The most important work successfully accomplished by the foundation is that it broke the axioms that violence against women and children is considered normal and usual in society; a woman must accept violence from her husband or guardian as one of his natural rights. We made their voices heard on this issue.

This was not all; as a part of the integrated treatment, we furthered our services empowering 1320 females who visited the foundation through empowerment programs that helped them get a source of income to support their families, especially those who no longer have a breadwinner.

Mental illness in the Yemeni society is associated with stigma on the individual and family, especially women who are suffering silently. Mental health patients are usually neglected and isolated from society. We have succeeded, to a large extent, during the past ten years in reducing the societal stigma towards mental illness and raised awareness of the concept that mental illness is like any other diseases that can be treated. Through awareness-raising campaigns on radio and television, field visits, social media, posters and periodicals, we raised the community awareness on such issues. As a result, which is deemed unprecedented step in the Yemeni society, we witness many husbands coming to the foundation accompanying their wives and daughters without hesitation or fear of stigma, as well as women who accompany their husbands or children to receive counseling and treatment.

My role was not limited to establishing the foundation, designing its programs and managing its activities, but also to:

  • Treating hundreds of cases of Yemeni women and children, as well as hundreds of female refugees.
  • Raising the skills of dozens of specialists in counseling and psychotherapy.
  • Training Dozens of social workers in schools to identify and deal with children's psychological problems.
  • Training a number of international organizations' employees on stress management.
  • Conducting the only, most important and largest research to assess the mental health situation in Yemen. It became the most important reference for researchers and official health institutions.
  • Writing a book on family psychology
  • Conducting seven researches in mental health field such as, the Effectiveness of Some Psychotherapeutic Approaches in Treating Mental Disorders, the Common Mental Health Disorders Prevalence, Children Mental Health Disorders, and Behavioral Problems.
  • Directing the attention of a number of countries and international organizations to the importance of supporting psychological programs in Yemen.

 

All that I have done and still doing emanates from the firm belief that any society in which women are oppressed, violated and marginalized is a society that is incapable of advancing and moving forward towards a prosperous future.