Reaching pregnant women vulnerable from conflict in Maguindanao, Philippines

“I was inside our house when I heard powerful explosions and intense gunfire,” Nadia Muson, 35, told UNFPA. Eight months pregnant and the mother of six, she and her family were within earshot of the armed conflict in their municipality of Datu Salibo, Magindanao, in the newly formed political entity Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Philippines.

“I was so anxious and nervous. All I could think about was the safety of my family,” she recalled.

Ms. Muson fled with her family to their nearby relatives in March, where they have been ever since.

She is not alone.

More than 45,000 people have been displaced from conflict in the BARMM including in Magindanao, according to the 29 March information from the BARMM Ministry of Social Services.

UNFPA estimates there could be as many as 1,400 pregnant women among the affected population, with around 500 expected to deliver in the next three months. There are also more than 900 women who have given birth in the last six months.

Difficult Conditions

Many of them fled their home to escape the conflict with only what they were wearing when they left, and even those are now torn. They are feeling too ashamed to come out to the public for the lost sense of “dignity”, preventing them from accessing humanitarian relief and other critical services.

“Women do not stop getting pregnant or delivering babies just because an emergency hits,” noted UNFPA Philippines Representative Iori Kato. “In times of crisis, it is more important than ever to protect the dignity, safety and reproductive health of pregnant and lactating women as they become even more vulnerable,” he added.

In an emergency, these pregnant and lactating women need services for hygiene, safe pregnancy and childbirth, and protection from gender-based violence; which promote the well-being not only of their families but of the entire communities.

Critical supplies

In partnership with the BARMM Ministry of Health and Ministry of Social Services and with support from the Australian Government, UNFPA Philippines provided close to 1,000 “Dignity Kits” for these pregnant and lactating women in Maguindanao.

These kits contain personal hygiene items such as sanitary napkins, underwear, soap and shampoo. Beyond providing these women with proper hygiene, the Dignity Kits are also providing them with confidence and mobility to access critical life-saving supplies including food, water as well as maternal or psychosocial health services. The kits also include flashlights and whistles to help women feel safe in the dark, a potty they can use at night, and a large, multi-colored cotton cloth, locally known as a ‘malong,’ that can function as a wrap-around dress, a blanket, or as curtains to allow women privacy and dignity.

“We are working in partnership with the newly established Bangsamoro Transition Authority to support pregnant women and new mothers in the BARMM. These Dignity Kits help to meet their immediate hygiene needs and increase their mobility and protection during this emergency,” said Iori Kato of UNFPA.

To support the BARMM Ministry of Health, UNFPA is coordinating an assessment to identify additional needs such as drugs, equipment and supplies to ensure clean and safe deliveries in the midst of the conflict.

Fulfilling the ICPD

“I’m so happy and grateful to receive this dignity kit. It is so helpful to me and my family,” Ms. Muson told UNFPA.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo where 179 governments agreed on a call for all people to have access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including voluntary family planning, and safe pregnancy and childbirth services.

Addressing the unique needs of women and girls by ensuring their sexual and reproductive health and rights in emergencies, along with their protection from violence and harmful practices, plays an important role in fulfilling the ICPD’s call to action.