News

Stop Sexual Assaults & Violence Against Syrian Women & Girls

By: Tewodros Melesse, Director-General, International Planned Parenthood Federation; Originally posted on Huffington Post

The humanitarian situation in Syria has sharply deteriorated and though media interest in the conflict has ebbed and flowed the crisis affecting Syrians has steadily grown.

Breaches of human rights by both sides and, as bombardment and shooting has continued so has another war -- a war of sexual assault and violence against women and girls.

Vast numbers of Syrians are now displaced -- in their own country and around its borders.

The UN's High Commissioner on Refugees says more than 2 million Syrians have been registered as refugees, with thousands more awaiting registration, and estimates that nearly 6.5 million people have been affected in some way by the War.

The impact on women and children has been devastating. Of the six million refugees and displaced Syrians, 78 percent are women and children, and 25 percent are women of childbearing age. They urgently need massive international support to protect them from the widespread sexual abuse they face, as well as other health and nutritional concerns.

How do you give birth safely in a tent in a refugee camp?

With an average of almost 5,000 Syrians fleeing every day to neighboring countries, there is a clear need for a significant increase in humanitarian aid and development support for displaced Syrians, refugees, and host communities.

In recent months, President Obama has announced large new aid packages aimed at Syrian refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). However, it is imperative that while we welcome this new American aid, and similar efforts initiated from within the region, we fight to ensure that women's health and gender-based violence services are not overlooked. Safe, educated, and healthy women and children are critical to ensuring a more stable future for Syria and the region.

As the world community continues to deliberate on how to address the conflict, there must be an immediate response to the humanitarian needs, especially for these vulnerable women and children.

Along with key partners the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), provides humanitarian aid and women's health services and we've been there throughout the conflict.

We've worked tirelessly in Syria and surrounding nations to ensure that vulnerable individuals, especially women, are not put at unnecessary risk of injury, illness, and death as a result of pregnancy and childbirth. And the organization is committed to gender equality and the elimination of discrimination against women, which too often threatens individual well-being and leads to the widespread violation of human rights.

Our member association in Syria since 1975, the Syrian Family Planning Association (SFPA), operates 18 clinics, 47 non-clinical outlets, 20 medical teams, and four mobile teams to provide medical services for internally displaced families and individuals. Although SFPA's work focuses on women and children, SFPA has also provided medical care and health services for hundreds of thousands of Syrian men, and its efforts are only growing: by the end of 2013, SFPA will have added an additional 10 mobile units, and increased maternal and reproductive health services for the Syrian population, thanks to coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO), Japan International Coordination Agency (JICA), and the United Nations.

In Jordan, where more than 500,000 displaced Syrians have registered as refugees, IPPF works with the Ahel EL Jabal Association, an organization operating in disproportionately-affected Al Mafraq Governate, to improve local capacity to handle the influx of refugees.

Efforts are underway to increase access to sexual and reproductive health services, and to forge partnerships with governmental, civil, and regional NGOs. Together, IPPF, Ahel EL Jabal, and other partners are moving injured refugees from the Syrian border and refugee camps to hospitals and clinics, transporting delivering women to emergency obstetrics care, providing site visits for medical and psychological support to displaced Syrian families, and distributing medications, humanitarian goods, and food to Syrian refugees. In the face of a tragedy of this scale, however, these achievements are only a first step.

IPPF has built the capacity to respond quickly in emergency situations, such as Syria, and provide expertise and models of success that can be replicated and scaled up. Because we are a grassroots organization of 152 member associations operating in more than 170 countries we are often there when disaster strikes and our staff and volunteers are there to provide sexual and reproductive health services from the outset.

We have a blueprint on how to address humanitarian crises with ensuring a focus on the needs of women and children, but we need international support to escalate the implementation to curtail and prevent the suffering now taking place. This situation needs all hands on deck the future of millions of women and children are at stake.

Although the attention of many has shifted from Syria, it does not change the facts: Syria is a major humanitarian crisis, and will only continue to deteriorate without a strong, continued commitment to relief efforts, from the U.S. and other nations.

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Founded in 1952, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) is both a service provider and an advocate of sexual and reproductive health and rights. The organisation is a worldwide network of 152 Member Associations active in over 170 countries. Learn more at http://www.ippf.org

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