Decolonising emotional well-being and mental health in development: African feminist innovations

Publication date

18 Mar 2020

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This article explores what a decolonial approach to emotional well-being and mental health looks like in development and humanitarian response, using the example of African feminist praxis around the emotional wellbeing and mental health of African women impacted by injustice, and the practitioners that work in solidarity with them. It draws on the experiences of the work of the African Institute for Integrated Responses to Violence Against Women and HIVAIDS (AIR), and analysis of the African feminist practitioners involved in its creation. It questions the presumption that orthodox Western psychology offers the most appropriate frameworks for understanding and designing mental health interventions targeted at African women and the practitioners engaging them, and looks instead to the thinking and practices developed by African feminist practitioners. Acknowledging that decolonising knowledge is central to the project of decolonising development, it argues for a decolonial feminist approach that takes seriously the healing knowledges produced by communities of African women affected by collective distress, and pays attention to the structural roots of trauma in African women’s lives. In doing so it calls for an approach to emotional well-being interventions that questions inequality and builds political and economic agency as part of emotional resilience. It also explores the practitioner–community relationship, arguing for the need to embrace the concept of vicarious resilience alongside that of vicarious trauma.