The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Resilience and Post-Traumatic Responses: Lessons of Courage From Marginalized Indigenous Women in Post-Conflict Ayacucho (Peru)

Friday, January 18, 2013: 11:00 AM
Marina 3 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Eliana B. Suarez, PhD, Assistant Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University, Kitchener, ON, Canada

The resilience of individuals and communities affected by political violence- how they survive such adverse environments - has not been examined, nor given equal prominence than their suffering. Similarly, the gendered nature of peace has also been less examined than the gendered nature of war. However, women play vital roles during times of war and peace, particularly in social repair processes, yet it is their victimhood that is more recognized than their courage. With such focus, psychosocial interventions often fail to adequately respond to local realities and are ill equipped to foster local strengths and participation in post-conflict reconstruction processes. Informed by contemporary theories of trauma, resilience, and structural violence, this study seeks to fill these gaps by examining the resilience of Quechua women in the aftermath of the political violence in Peru (1980-2000). In particular, it examines their coping strategies in front of systemic, racial and gender-based violence.


A cross-sectional survey design was used to examine a) the relationships between resilience, posttraumatic responses, general exposure to violence and current stressors, and b) the individual and social factors associated with the resilience of a purposively selected sample of 151 Quechua women survivors of war in Ayacucho- the area most affected by the armed conflict in Peru. The Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC) measured resilience, while Part I and Part IV of the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ) measured general exposure to violence (GEV) and posttraumatic stress disorder related symptoms (PTSD-R) respectively while current stressors were examined using the Life Stress Questionnaire (LSQ). All instruments were translated and subjected to semantic and cross-cultural validation.  Socio-demographic information was also collected.


Resilience did not contribute to the overall variance of PTSD-R (β= - 0.117, t = -1.718, p=.088) which was predicted instead by GEV and LSQ ( =.325). PTSD, however, is a multi-dimensional construct and resilience was a significant contributor of the variance of avoidance symptoms (β = -.198, p <0.05) but not for re-experiencing or arousal symptoms. The variance of resilience scores ( = .361) was associated positively with regular participation in civic associations, while negatively with illiteracy, elementary education, unpaid occupation and experience of sexual violence. Resilience and PTSD-R were both higher for women who participate regularly in civic associations.


Post-traumatic responses and resilience emerge as distinctive, but often simultaneous processes. The inverse relationship of resilience and avoidance symptoms, key contributors to chronic PTSD, pointed to the protective role of resilience against persistent distress. Resilience appears hindered by indicators of structural violence, such as poverty, illiteracy and sexual violence- and enhanced by social participation. Therefore, social policies that re-vitalize civic society, and reduce gender inequalities in education, employment and targeted violence, are crucial to enhance the resilience of marginalized women in post conflict. The strong association of resilience with the activism of participants also pointed to the combative nature of resilience a neglected area of research. Hence, how resilience is conceptualized is central to resilience building interventions with survivors of war and overall social work practice.