Women’s Refugee Commission Commends International Family Planning Summit and Calls for Attention to Displaced Populations
New York, NY, July 9—This week, global health leaders are convening in London for a summit that is mobilizing efforts to expand access to contraceptives to an additional 120 million women in the poorest countries. Hosted by the UK’s Department for International Development and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the summit aims to rally international agencies, governments and organizations to make political and financial commitments to meet this goal, enabling more women and girls to have control over their lives and futures. The Women’s Refugee Commission welcomes this global movement and calls for greater consideration of some of the most vulnerable women and girls: the millions displaced because of political conflict and the millions more displaced by natural disasters. This population is currently severely underserved with little access to family planning.
Family planning saves lives. It prevents unwanted pregnancies and deaths that occur during pregnancy or childbirth; yet, there are more than 200 million women in developing countries without access to it. Many of these countries have among the highest rates of maternal death, and seven of the ten countries with the highest maternal mortality ratios have been, or are, affected by conflict.
The United Nations, governments and the world’s leading development organizations agreed upon a blueprint to lessen poverty by 2015 called the Millennium Development Goals. In order to meet Goal #5, “improve maternal health,” the need that displaced women and girls have for family planning must be met.
“Family planning should be a priority in crisis regions, but it is not,” said Sandra Krause, Director of Reproductive Health at the Women's Refugee Commission. “Where family planning services are available, they tend to be of very poor quality, clinics have inconsistent stock of supplies and many people are not aware of the services or how to access them.”
In 2011, the Women’s Refugee Commission and the UN refugee agency conducted research on family planning in five crisis-affected countries: Djibouti, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia and Uganda. This research found that use of contraception was lower in refugee camps than in surrounding communities and awareness of family planning among displaced populations was also low. Many had not heard about family planning, did not know about the range of methods or had misconceptions about it. For those who did have accurate knowledge about contraception, there were other significant barriers, such as long wait times and unhygienic practices. Adolescents reported limited access to information and services and a lack of privacy. All of these factors play a part in the poor uptake of family planning in these parts of the world.
The Women’s Refugee Commission urges governments and donors to extend the reach of their family planning services to women, men and adolescents who have been displaced by conflict or disaster. “To really save lives and meet the Millennium Development Goals, we have to recognize the rights and needs of displaced women and girls—the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable,” noted Krause. “It is possible to reach them with quality services, and we must.”