World Refugee Day: Leaving no one behind

On World Refugee Day, June 20th, we bear witness to the strength, courage, and perseverance of the millions of women and girls forced from their homes by violent conflict.

by Jennifer Schlecht, CARE/FP2020 Senior Advisor on Emergency Preparedness and Response

We’re living in an age of global displacement: Almost one percent of the world’s population has been forcibly displaced by violence, war, and persecution. The number of refugees and internally displaced persons (68.5 million in the latest count) is the highest on record — greater, even, than in the aftermath of World War II. And there’s no let-up in sight. Every two seconds another person is driven from home and forced into a desperate, nightmarish search for safety.

For FP2020, crisis-affected women and girls are part of our mandate to leave no one behind. With millions of women and girls fleeing violence — and millions more displaced by natural disasters, drought, and famine — FP2020 commitments and rights-based principles cannot be fulfilled without deliberate efforts to reach these vulnerable groups.

Right now an estimated 32 million women and girls of reproductive age are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, whether because of conflict or natural disasters. And contraception is an essential part of the humanitarian package. These women and girls have been cut off from their regular healthcare providers and their contraceptive routines disrupted — and their ability to prevent unintended pregnancy potentially ended. The risk of sexual violence in these settings is sky high. Being pregnant or giving birth during a crisis is especially dangerous, with increased rates of maternal death and injury. In an environment of heightened gender-based violence, risky childbirth, inadequate medical care, and uncertain futures, contraception is an essential lifesaving intervention.

That’s why FP2020 is incorporating emergency preparedness and response into our work. In partnership with CARE, we’ll focus on supporting FP2020 country commitments to reach women and girls in crisis contexts. Humanitarian crises can place a heavy burden on a government’s capacity to respond and recover. Even health systems that have been operating at a relatively high capacity may struggle in an emergency, and precious development gains — like decreasing child mortality rates and improvements to maternal health — may be lost. Preparedness efforts are essential for building resilience so that health systems can better rebound and countries can continue to deliver much needed services.

FP2020 will collaborate with countries and implementing agencies to identify their preparedness and response needs, and then work with partners to develop tools that can meet those needs. We’ll also begin covering this material through our regular country support channels, including FP2020 Focal Point Workshops, webinars, and action plan consultations. Our approach throughout will be on ensuring that we as a community are focused on building strong, resilient systems that will enable countries to reach the hardest-to-reach.

On the global level, FP2020 will also work with partners to ensure that family planning remains a priority across the disaster cycle — supporting and monitoring the inclusion of contraception as an essential component within the Minimum Initial Service Package, and as programs transition to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care. We’ll collaborate to document best practices and strengthen knowledge in both the humanitarian and development communities. Crises may be the first time governments, UN systems, and their NGO partners reach marginalized, remote, or otherwise under-served (and previously invisible) populations with family planning services. An improved data, monitoring, and accountability framework will help shine a light on those in need and deliver better outcomes for women and girls in these settings.

Our world will face more and more crises and, in all likelihood, the level of displacement will continue to rise. There will be more refugees, more displaced persons, more natural disasters, more droughts and famines. We need to be strategic and proactive as a community to ensure that we’re up to the challenge. Today, and every day, FP2020 is committed to reaching crisis-affected women and girls with lifesaving rights-based family planning. We look forward to collaborating with countries and global actors to move this agenda forward — and to building a brighter tomorrow for millions of refugee and displaced women and girls.