Innovative social mapping tool shows the importance of faith for displaced people in times of crisis

By Press Office

Latest research has revealed that many Yazidi people who fled ISIS in Iraq found their immediate relationship with God an important source of support. They were reluctant to turn to wider family, friends or neighbours for material help when they had no capacity to return the favour.

However, Yazidi people found it easier to trust family, friends or neighbours and religious leaders than to go to support organisations when they needed help to resolve problems and disputes. Women experiencing violence in the family, for example, were unlikely to go to agencies set up to support them, due to fear of stigma and the shame it would bring their family.

Research from the Institute of Global Health and Development (IGHD) at Queen Margaret University (QMU) and international development agency Tearfund, led by Dr. Alison Strang and Oonagh O’Brien, used an innovative social mapping tool developed at IGHD to identify key social connections within and between displaced populations and their host communities in the Kurdish Region of Iraq. The area has faced waves of violence and conflict, and many people have been forced to flee their homes.

Since 2014, Tearfund has been working in Iraq to respond to the physical and psychological needs of those whose lives have been devastated by the current crisis. Tearfund commissioned the research to better understand who people trust and turn to for support within conflict-affected communities. The findings will be used to inform the policy, practice, strategies and programmes of Tearfund and other organisations involved in responding to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

The research used a social mapping tool, designed by Dr Strang, among the displaced religious minority Yazidi and Muslim populations as well as a Yazidi settled population. It revealed where people placed their trust when dealing with issues ranging from meeting basic needs to resolving disputes and gender-based violence. It looked at how levels of trust and connections vary between men and women, and settled or displaced people. The tool can also be used in other settings of conflict and displacement to identify key local influencers and their importance in communities and to help humanitarian organisations design effective programmes that build on existing networks.

Oonagh O’Brien, lecturer on IGHD’s Gender, Health and Development module, believes this will change how support agencies aid displaced peoples. She said: “These findings help us to understand more about the complexities of how people seek help after conflict and the gendered differences of support networks. The participatory approach used to gather this information can ensure that the voice of displaced people is listened to in the design of appropriate services from the humanitarian sector.”

Maggie Sandilands, who leads Tearfund’s work on gender-based violence in humanitarian contexts, said ‘This research highlights the importance of faith, as a key source of support and personal resilience, for people affected by conflict and displacement. Better understanding of social norms and the way communities cope with emergencies - and how this impacts men and women differently - is vital to humanitarian agencies like Tearfund. We need to listen to those most affected. It helps us to respond more effectively to people’s needs, in a way that is context appropriate and strengthens existing community resources.’


IGHD/QMU contact: Maggie Wright on 0131 226 3622 / 07801 710360

To arrange an interview with Maggie Sandilands, please contact Louise Thomas at Tearfund
T:  020 8973 1251 / M: 07590 775847



Notes to Editor

About IGHD

The Institute for Global Health and Development (IGHD) is a multi-disciplinary centre for research and postgraduate education that addresses contemporary health and development challenges in low and middle income countries and their connection to global systems and trends. 

About Tearfund

Tearfund is a Christian relief and development agency working to eradicate poverty.

Find out more about Tearfund’s work in Iraq and how Tearfund responds to sexual and gender-based violence in emergency situations on their website.

About the Research

The full methodology and findings of the research are detailed in a report produced by Queen Margaret University (QMU), commissioned by Tearfund: Who can I turn to? Mapping social connections, trust and problem-solving among conflict-affected populations (Strang and O’Brien, 2017) The full report can be found on the Tearfund website.

A five-page draft summary of the research Social Connections in Kurdistan Region of Iraq: implications for policy and practice is available on request.

The research focussed on three conflict-affected Yazidi and Muslim communities in Duhok governorate of the Kurdish Region of Iraq.

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