October 2005 / Halle, Saale

“Conflicts – Human Rights – Interventions”
Conference of the German Anthropological Association (GAA)
Halle / Saale, 4th – 7th October 200

Panel of the Working Group Medical Anthropology:

“Medical Anthropology Perspectives on Health, Violence and Conflicts”


Panel contributions:

“Gender, health and human rights in the aftermath of political conflicts”
Annemiek Richters (Leiden University Medical Center)

In order to address the gender dimensions of health and human rights in a post-war situation we have to understand the role sexuality and gender play in connection to violence in pre-war society and as part of the organized violence during war. Based on this understanding the paper will explore the sets of ideas on trauma, suffering, memory, professional therapy, justice, and reconciliation that underlie international and local policies and practices relevant for the recovery from the wounds of war and for peaceful, sustainable development in different political and socio-cultural contexts. It will draw from anthropologically informed violence studies, and particularly from ethnographic case studies in which explicit attention is paid to a gender perspective on the issues under consideration. Specific attention will be paid to the cases of the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. In conclusion some of the challenges ahead for medical anthropology are discussed.


“The Long-Term Effects of War Violence: The Role of Local Resources in Boosting Recovery in Post-Conflict Contexts”
Victor Igreja (Leiden University Medical Center / Leiden Research School CNWS)

In recent years there has been an increasing interest from medical anthropologists in the study of the long-term effects of exposure to extreme armed violence at individual, family and community level. The interest has been extended to study the local resources applied to recover from these overwhelming experiences in the post-conflict period. The results suggest that there is no universal and uniform response to the effects of extreme violence across cultures. There are complex individual, socio-cultural, political, and historical factors that shape the meaning and responses to traumatic suffering. Despite these differences a common finding in these studies is the wide prevalence of spirits and spirit possession as one of the mechanisms used to express the long-term effects of war trauma and set the paths for recovery. This presentation deals with the emergence of the ´gamba´ spirits and ´gamba´ possession in the center of Mozambique.


“Impact of refugee policy on the living conditions of female asylum seekers – a public health and human rights issue. Is it a medical anthropological issue too?”
Martine Verwey (Medical Anthropology Switzerland)

Humanitarian field staff in conflict and post-conflict societies link sexual violence against refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons to human rights, with emphasis on community action. But we know little about sexual and gender-based violence within the refugee context in Europe. While several publications concern human rights violations, refugees and health consequences, almost none have focused on whether the orientation of the refugee policy reduces or exacerbates female asylum seekers’ vulnerability to violence. Is there a link between health and human rights in relation to the impact of asylum policy and its limitations regarding prevention dealing with the living conditions of the target group? Conceptual frameworks from both public health and transcultural psychiatry perspectives are offered for discussion. What is the contribution of medical anthropology?


Panel summary:

Relating to the general topic of the conference this panel explores the multiple interrelations of Medical Anthropology and situations of violence and conflict. Essentially, we aim to discuss the ways in which various forms of conflict and violence affect the health of people, and how health practitioners, health systems and bureaucratic structures respond to the needs of people who were/are exposed to violence and conflict.

Experiences of violence and conflict may range from acute physical injuries to long-lasting effects of traumatization, devastation of homes and livelihood, environmental damage and forced migration; furthermore, domestic violence, torture and rape cause wide-ranging health damage to people even if they live in ‘peaceful’ environments.

Themes to be developed at the panel should include the following questions:

1. Local responses to conflicts and violence which affect health: What are the local responses to violent conflicts and its effects on health (e.g., traumatization)? What are the available resources? How and when are these local resources mobilized? How do local medical practitioners engage in situations of conflict? What kind of power relations exist between various local actors, health researchers, and international health organisations? In whom should people being involved in conflicts trust?

2. Conflict, gender and the politics of the body: How are health conflicts embodied and gendered? How, for instance, do gender and the body, as well as migratory contexts, structure (experiences of) traumatization and/or domestic violence? How are health needs of people met or misrepresented in situations of conflict and violence? How can Medical Anthropology contribute to a better understanding of the relationship between situations of conflicts and violence, knowledge regimes, body politics, political interests, health needs and responses?


Contact Information:
Dr. Hansjörg Dilger
(Chair of the Working Group Medical Anthropology)
email: hansjoerg.dilger@berlin.de