By: Rati Bishnoi, Special Projects Intern
In 2008, while attempting to escape fighting in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, Fadhumo* fled the city with two of her seven children. After seeking shelter in the Bariga Bosasso refugee settlement, she was eventually reunited with her sister and remaining children.
Security was limited, however, and the then-pregnant Fadhumo was raped by two men. “I tried to fight them off but they were much stronger. They beat me viciously, breaking both my wrists. They raped me repeatedly without caring that I was pregnant,” Fadhumo told the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). As a result of the rape, Fadhumo lost her unborn child and fell into a deep depression. Her ability to support herself or her other children diminished. Thankfully, Fadhumo is now rebuilding her life, has re-launched her grocery business and joined a support group for rape survivors.
Refugees like Fadhumo fight daily to survive and rebuild their lives after being displaced from their homes. They face constant threats of violence and have little to no access to basic necessities. “Just like women around the world, [internally displaced people] are mothers, wives, orphans, widows—except they are forced to play these roles in extremely difficult conditions, which many of us cannot begin to imagine”, said UNHCR Protection Officer Annabel Mwangi.
In Somalia, decades of conflict have displaced nearly 1.5 million people, and the current famine adversely affects the lives of million more. According to UNICEF, 4 million people are in crisis and, in six famine districts, the number of people affected by starvation has doubled since July. In addition, it is estimated that up to 80 percent of all crisis-affected populations globally are women, children, and youth. As the humanitarian emergency grows, aid and nongovernmental groups such as the one that helped Fadhumo receive medical care for her rape injuries and miscarriage, are the only support for women’s unique health care needs.
To help field partners better meet the needs of women refugees, UNHCR, Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, and partner organizations within the Inter-agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crisis, are advocating for the use of the Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP). The MISP offers guidance on how to prioritize and implement a set of life-saving reproductive health activities during humanitarian crises, including:
• Assist survivors by providing medical and psychosocial services to victims
• Raise community awareness on available services
• Work with others to establish a protection system for women and girls
• Reduce transmission by using safe systems for blood transfusions
• Follow standard precautions and distribute free condoms.
• Provide antiretrovirals and ARVs
• Ensure emergency obstetric care is available
• Guarantee referral systems, birth attendants and clean delivery kits are available
• Provide education on warning signs of complicated pregnancies
Reproductive Health Services
• Identify suitable sites for placement of services
• Provide access to birth control pills, injectables, and IUDs (for contraception)
• Offer antibiotics for the treatment of sexually transmitted infections, culturally appropriate menstruation products, specific services for adolescents
To successfully implement the MISP, cross-sectional coordination of short and long-term, comprehensive reproductive health activities must be part of the humanitarian response. Check out the MISP Distance Learning Module to find out humanitarian workers can better meet the reproductive health needs of displaced women and girls.
(*Name changed by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees for protection)
Flickr photo by: Frank Keillor