Most vulnerable

U.N. says women’s health treated as “afterthought” following humanitarian crises

A Syrian woman carries her child at a military hospital. (REUTERS/Menahem Kahana/Pool)

A new report by the UN population fund (UNPFA) claims that in the humanitarian response to crises, women’s health is too often treated as an afterthought, “leaving already disadvantaged women and girls in an even more precarious situation,” with a lack of pregnancy, childbirth and family planning services. The report, titled “Shelter from the Story,” claims the humanitarian response should take into account the different impact conflict and disasters have on both genders. “In the tumultuous early phase of a crisis, food, shelter and care for acute physical trauma often seem the most compelling needs, with gender or any other kind of discrimination something that can be put off for a safer day. Thinking this way, however, can make a response blind to realities,” the report claims.

That’s why the UNFPA argues that putting women and girls’ health at the center of any humanitarian response is critical to its success. Because women generally have less income, less access to land and less education, and are not equally protected under the law, they are disproportionately ill-equipped to weather such a crisis. The fund estimates that some 60 per cent of all preventable maternal deaths (500 deaths every day) occur in humanitarian and conflict settings. Moreover, gender-based violence soars during and after a crisis, with rape often used as a weapon of war, and women becoming more vulnerable to trafficking. “For the pregnant woman who is about to deliver, or the adolescent girl who survived sexual violence, life-saving services are as vital as water, food and shelter.” said UNFPA’s executive director, Babatunde Osotimehin. “Having the means to prevent a pregnancy and being safe from sexual violence – these are basic human rights. Rights don’t just go away, and women don’t stop giving birth when a conflict breaks out or disaster strikes.”

Read the full story at The Guardian.

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