Opportunities to help safeguard sexual and reproductive health and rights in emergencies – WHO

Posted by Kimberley Meijers on June 16, 2016 at 5:10 pm

Women and girls face diverse sexual and reproductive health challenges in emergency situations

2 May 2016 – There are now over 125 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, a fivefold increase from only a decade ago. Of some 100 million people who were targeted in 2015 with humanitarian aid, an estimated 26 million are women and girls of reproductive age. A new commentary highlights the urgent need to answer to the specific sexual and reproductive health needs of girls and women living in emergency situations.

Published in the May 2016 issue of the WHO Bulletin, which focuses on the implementation of the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ health, the commentary also underlines the opportunities for political commitment at the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit. The article was written by experts from WHO and the United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Population Fund, the Women’s Refugee Commission, and the humanitarian settings workstream of the new Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health (2016-2020).

The authors state, ‘Women and girls are affected disproportionately in both sudden and slow-onset emergencies and face multiple sexual and reproductive health challenges in emergency contexts.’

More than half of maternal deaths occur in fragile and humanitarian settings. A woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death – the probability that a woman dying from a maternal cause – is 1 in 4900 in developed countries, versus 1 in 54 in countries designated as fragile states; showing the consequences of breakdowns in health systems.

Crises often exacerbate existing violence against women and girls, and present additional forms of violence against girls and women.

The challenges faced by girls and women in relation to sexual and reproductive health and well-being are diverse. The authors note how emergencies often reveal pre-existing weaknesses and a lack of resilience in health systems, as well as an absence of quality data on women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health – which in turn impedes the effective design and implementation of sustainable health interventions.

The authors of the commentary state that, ‘To achieve the vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – to leave no one behind – it is imperative to protect and improve women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health and well-being and emergencies.’

The authors highlight how emphasis on addressing humanitarian settings in the new Global Strategy can help countries and fragile states deliver for populations living in emergency and protracted crisis settings, through a series of defined actions. They also raise awareness of the global imperative to raise sufficient and continued funds to support implementation of the new Global Strategy.

In May 2016, humanitarian leaders, advocates, civil society and activists will come together at the first World Humanitarian Summit held in Istanbul, Turkey. The commentary’s authors stress how this event will present a crucial opportunity for participants to commit to the United Nations’ Secretary-General’s proposed agenda for humanity within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:

‘By endorsing the Secretary-General’s call to action, summit participants can commit to the actions proposed by the global strategy for women, children and adolescents living in emergency settings.’