Next week, world leaders are gathering in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly, where they’ll discuss some of the most pressing issues facing the world today. But how will these conversations impact the real lives of girls and women?
It’s hard to imagine an issue more pressing than the Syrian crisis. More than five years into the conflict, Syria continues to experience a grave and enormous humanitarian crisis, with more than 11 million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, and more than 5 million girls and women of reproductive age affected by the crisis.
But what may get lost in the magnitude of these numbers is the individual stories of these girls and women – and the critical impact that access to quality reproductive health care information and services can have on their lives.
This spring, our team traveled to Zaatari, the largest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, to see first-hand the lifesaving and life-changing work of UNFPA. The visit was prompted by a very special event: The birth of the 5,000th baby in the UNFPA-supported Women and Girls’ Comprehensive Center in Zaatari.
Baby Rima’s arrival marked the 5,000th birth since UNFPA took over the clinic, without a single maternal death. This number is all the more remarkable when you consider that approximately 800 girls and women die each and every day from childbirth, and 60% of preventable maternal deaths occur in humanitarian settings.
UNFPA is the only provider of normal childbirth delivery services in Zaatari, serving 20,000 girls and women with comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, gender based violence counseling, and educational programs.
Imagine if UNFPA wasn’t able to provide these services: Thousands of girls and women, already forced to leave their homes, would be forced to give birth without access to the most basic maternal and neonatal care. Many more would lack access to much-needed family planning information and services, and victims of gender-based violence, an issue that is often exacerbated in conflict settings, would lose a safe space for support.
This is just one example of the urgently needed care for girls and women impacted by the crisis, but we know that we need to be doing much more, particularly for those who are hardest to reach, including young girls and those trapped on the Syrian border. Providing these services is not only the right thing to do, but it’s the smart thing: Access to sexual and reproductive health services is critical for recovery and resiliency. But with demand only increasing, the UN and its partners need more funding to double down on efforts to reach these girls and women.
Fortunately, two major meetings are happening to address the needs of refugees next week. On September 19, the UN is hosting a Summit for Refugees and Migrants to bring countries together to improve the response to the large movements of refugees and migrants. And on September 20, the United States is hosting a pledging conference to encourage countries to do their part to meet the needs of refugees. It is our job, as a global community, to hold all of these leaders accountable; and in particular, to speak up for sexual and reproductive health and rights as a critical and necessary part of humanitarian response.
Join me and raise your voice to let world leaders know: The need is urgent; the time is now. Girls and women are counting on us.