As of today, there are 68.5 million people who have had to flee their homes, nearly 25.4 million of them being classified as refugees (UNHCR, 2018). We have reached the highest level of displacement in recorded history (UNHCR, 2018). There is a need to further discuss the unique and specific needs of displaced people and the complications surrounding effective services.
People who are affected by humanitarian crises, whether it be war, violence, or natural disasters, are particularly vulnerable to life-threatening ailments, including sexual and reproductive ill-health. The failure to effectively provide sexual and reproductive health services to this population is a leading cause of death, disease and disability and subsequently poses serious barriers in the advancement towards the Sustainable Development Goals (Foster et al., 2017). Those in a particularly vulnerable position are women and girls of reproductive age. According to the Women’s Refugee Commission, women and girls in humanitarian settings have a significantly increased risk of experiencing gender-based violence including exploitation and abuse (2019).
Improvements in sexual and reproductive health and rights is directly linked to an improvement in both social and economic development (CARE, 2013). However, in order to affectively address these issues we need to work towards not only improving direct services, we need to work towards creating real systemic change targeting gender inequality, power imbalances and policy barriers (CARE, 2013). The first step in developing meaningful health interventions is gathering reliable data and scientific evidence to support them. Unfortunately, there is a gap in this field of research done on women and girl’s health in these areas (WHO, 2016).
Due to the particular needs of this population, there is a need to encourage the unity and collaboration between different sectors to assure comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care (Foster et al., 2017). We need to be actively working towards implementing new strategies to increase prevention and response interventions as well as strengthening social and protective networks in these areas. There is a global obligation to assure that the right to sexual and reproductive health is upheld for everyone, including those living in humanitarian settings.
Despite these shortcomings, Canada is at the forefront of a feminist humanitarian movement and other countries are following in its wake. After announcing its Feminist International Assistance Policy, Canada pledged to better support women and girls’ health in developing countries and has launched 123 projects in 51 countries as of April 2019 (Government of Canada, 2017). With the investment of $650 million, the Canadian government has worked towards closing the gaps in sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls by providing and improving access to comprehensive health care, prevention and education (Government of Canada, 2017). The launch of this foreign policy is an important step in the advancement of a more feminist approach to humanitarian aid.
As the World Health Assembly (WHA) approaches along with the 25th Anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development, the stage is set for the international community to implement sustainable change and uphold the rights of women and girls. It is important however that in these discussions we ensure that those who are affected by these crises are not only seen and heard within the humanitarian system but that they are main actors in leading the discussion and shaping the policies in question (CARE, 2019). The year 2019 has the potential to enact significant change in the way we carry out humanitarian aid and Canada must continue to be a leading voice in this global effort.
CARE. (2013, September). Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights [Text]. Retrieved from https://www.care.org/work/health/sexual-and-reproductive-health-and-rights
Foster, A. M., Evans, D. P., Garcia, M., Knaster, S., Krause, S., McGinn, T., … Wheeler, E. (2017). The 2018 Inter-agency field manual on reproductive health in humanitarian settings: revising the global standards. Reproductive Health Matters, 25(51), 18–24. https://doi.org/10.1080/09688080.2017.1403277
Government of Canada, G. A. C. (2016). Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy. Retrieved from https://international.gc.ca/world-monde/issues_development-enjeux_developpement/priorities-priorites/policy-politique.aspx?lang=eng
UNHCR (2018, June). Figures at a Glance. Retrieved from https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html
WHO (2016). Sexual and reproductive health and rights of refugees and migrants. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/news/srhr-refugees-migrant/en/
CARE (2019, April). Womens and girls rights and agency in humanitarian action: A life-saving priority. Retrieved from https://care.ca/2019/04/womens-and-girls-rights-and-agency-in-humanitarian-action-a-life-saving-priority/