Community and crafts for women with mental illness in Tanzania

"SOLIDARITY FOREVER", "TUSPO FOREVER" they shout and hold each other's hands in the air. Through the organization TUSPO (Tanzania Users and Survivors of Psychiatry Organization), a group of women who live with or are relatives of someone living with mental illness meet.

TUSPO is one of MyRight's partner organizations through the Swedish RSMH (National Association for Social and Mental Health) that work together to strengthen and support people with mental illness in Tanzania. TUSPO was the first non-profit member organization in Tanzania that targets people with mental illness and has had a positive development in the country. Today, they are located in ten regions and drive issues around attitude influence, autonomy and organizational development. Plans for the future include strengthening the local associations, informing in, for example, schools and hospitals, and exercising advocacy work at all levels of society.

A relatively new initiative is a women's group that was started in 2019. At that time, the group consisted of 11 members. Today, they have grown to 40 women who meet to share their experiences of mental illness and support each other in the challenges they face. The women are also offered opportunities to undergo training in, for example, sewing. The group develops their skills together in making bags, clothes, soap, jewelry, shoes, oils and much more that they can then use as an important source of income when selling the crafts.

In Tanzania, it means several challenges to live with mental illness as a woman, or to be a relative of someone with mental illness. One challenge is the stigma of mental illness, which means that many women are denied their rights, for example in the form of being treated unfairly in hospitals and thus not receiving the medical care they need.

It is also not uncommon for a man living with a woman who has psychosocial problems to leave the woman because of it. In Tanzania, the woman is usually regarded as the caregiver of the family, with the ultimate responsibility for caring for children and the household. Suffering from mental illness as a woman and not receiving the support needed makes it more difficult to cope with this type of responsibility, which in turn leads to further stigma and isolation from society. The women's group started by TUSPO makes it possible for women who suffer from stigma and isolation due to mental illness to be part of a community where they are accepted and can support each other in their struggles.

Four women smile and show off different crafts.

Members of the women's group show off their crafts.

Living with mental illness is in itself a struggle. In addition, being isolated in society and being denied their rights makes the struggle even more difficult. The work that TUSPO does, in partnership with RSMH, is therefore extremely important in order to change attitudes and to ensure that people living with mental illness have access to their rights.

During MyRight's visit, the women proudly show off their crafts and explain in detail how the production is done. One of the women in the group smiles and says:

I get so happy when someone buys my crafts says that they are nice, it makes me feel good and that I do something good.

Several people stand in a ring and hold each other's hands.


Text and image: Sara Westfahl

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