A woman’s basic human right to plan her family and her future does not go away when disaster strikes.
But amid some of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time, the needs of girls and women are often neglected. Right now, more than 32 million girls and women of reproductive age worldwide are in need of humanitarian assistance – that’s roughly half the population of France.
These girls and women face significant health risks in humanitarian settings: Unsafe environments put them at increased risk for sexual violence, and lack of access to quality health care – including family planning services – mean more unplanned pregnancies and more maternal, newborn, and child illness and death. In fact, more than 500 women die every day from complications of pregnancy and childbirth in countries affected by humanitarian crises.
The global community must act and make family planning a bigger part of humanitarian response. On July 11, policymakers, donors, and advocates will convene at the Family Planning Summit in London to accelerate progress toward ensuring girls and women around the world have access to family planning. The Summit, hosted by the UK Government, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in partnership with Family Planning 2020, is a key moment to revitalize global commitment to women and girls and their right to contraception.
An overarching goal of the Summit is to meet the critical need to reach girls and women in humanitarian settings through expanding the variety of contraceptive options that are available to them, ensuring access to emergency contraception, and, perhaps most critically, fully integrating family planning into humanitarian response. Demand for contraception in crisis settings is high, and these services should be prioritized alongside basic humanitarian aid like food, water, and shelter. Integrating family planning into humanitarian response will not only reach girls and women in crisis now, it will have a positive ripple effect in the future. More girls and women will be in control of their bodies and destinies, and governments and NGO partners will have more capacity and experience in reaching marginalized, remote, and under-served populations with family planning services in times of both crisis and stability.
This is where UNFPA and the entire UN system play a key role: UNFPA is on the front lines in countries across the world providing critical services in emergency settings, such as voluntary family planning, midwife training, pre-natal care, and safe delivery services, and working to end child marriage and female genital mutilation. It is often the first – and sometimes the only – health provider in humanitarian crises. In 2017 alone, UNFPA will reach 38 million people in humanitarian crises, including more than 5.6 million pregnant women.
No one nation, nor even a handful of nations, can address the world’s humanitarian crises alone. The UN has the expertise, the mandate, and the platform to reach the world’s most vulnerable girls and women. With the support of the global policymaking, advocacy, and donor communities – such as that at the Family Planning Summit in London – we can take steps to weave in family planning as a critical part of humanitarian response and to mobilize funding and support for UNFPA and for family planning in general in humanitarian settings.
A woman’s basic health needs do not wait for conflict to end. Her essential rights are not suspended. To ensure the dignity of all human beings and to realize the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals to “leave no one behind,” we must help the most vulnerable among us.
[Photo: Patrick Adams]