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Changing the Status of Reproductive Health in the Humanitarian Response

Reproductive health services are often neglected or ignored in humanitarian emergencies, a time when services are most needed yet are not prioritized. For many women and girls, this would mean the difference between life and death.
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Syrian woman in the camp for displaced persons in Qatma, Syria (January 2013)
Syrian woman in the camp for displaced persons in Qatma, Syria (January 2013)

A humanitarian crisis can turn worlds upside down in an instant. But the recovery can take decades.

Conflict, tsunami and cyclones are just some of crises that have changed the lives of people permanently this year. Globally, we know that around 125 million people are affected by crises and 26 million of them are women and girls.

Women and girls are disproportionately influenced by humanitarian crises exposed to early marriage, trafficking, rape, forced pregnancies, unattended service delivery during complicated pregnancies and delivery. Women and girls are 14 times more likely to die in disaster settings than men.

This is what the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) will be talking about at the first ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul this week.

You hear of populations dislodged and of the immediate challenges of food and shelter. But what about the need for reproductive health and neo-natal services? What about the dangers of sexual violence that women and girls in particular face?

Reproductive health services are often neglected or ignored in humanitarian emergencies, a time when services are most needed yet are not prioritized. For many women and girls, this would mean the difference between life and death.

We need to ensure access to life-saving Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights services are made a priority for women, men and children in times of crisis.

In Syria, an estimated 46,500 women will suffer gender based violence, including rape, as a result of the ongoing conflict. More than 75% of Syrian refugees who fled are women and children.

Specialized front line services are needed to offer the support and protection in a critical time where women and girls are at high risks of physical and sexual violence.

We need to ensure that the human rights of women and girls are protected and able to access sexual and reproductive healthcare.

Progress in targeting women and girls has been achieved in the past decade but sexual and reproductive health services are often neglected in humanitarian emergencies and still remain a less universally acknowledged priority.

Fundamentally, we need to put money and efforts into ensuring the integration of a comprehensive package on reproductive health into the standard humanitarian response.

Access to sexual and reproductive services, even in the midst of war or natural disaster, is a human right which does not only saves lives in the short run, but also helps build resilience among refugees and those displaced.

Yet it's one of the most important aspects of humanitarian assistance that is often forgotten when disaster and conflicts strike.

There are a number of commitments we want to see at this Summit.

First we need to ensure that there is a coordinated response on the ground which has the same status as other humanitarian response like water or food. This is a minimum set of standards for a sexual and reproductive health front line actions.

It's not new. It is already recognized as the international standard for reproductive health in crises, known as the Minimal Initial Service Package (MISP).

Second, we urge governments to factor to recognize and implement reproductive health into their own humanitarian response delivery.

Finally, donor governments need to ensure that services are more equitably distributed between conflict zones and natural disasters. In particular in conflict areas, lack of funding leads to worse sexual and reproductive health outcomes for women and girls.

Our role in sexual and reproductive health continues to play an important role both on the ground and in the global discourse. We will keep pushing for it to be given the status it truly deserves for as long as it takes.

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