Celebrating the life and work of Jennifer Schlecht, a champion for the rights of women and girls around the world

Jennifer Schlecht in the field

The Women’s Refugee Commission remembers and celebrates our colleague and friend Jennifer Schlecht, and pays tribute to her transformative impact on the rights of women and girls in humanitarian settings.

When we think about Jenn and her career, we think about her pioneering work investigating child marriage in conflict settings. Her foundational research in Uganda, Lebanon, and Ethiopia provided critical recommendations for practitioners, researchers, and policymakers engaged in efforts to end child marriage and support the needs of married girls globally. It laid the groundwork for work that WRC continues to this day into the extent and drivers of child marriage.

Jennifer Schlecht in the fieldJenn also led global efforts to ensure that women and girls affected by crises can access contraception, including integrating prevention of unintended pregnancy as a core objective in the coordinated set of lifesaving sexual and reproductive health (SRH) activities to be implemented at the onset of every humanitarian emergency. She spearheaded global efforts to include SRH as part of emergency preparedness and disaster risk reduction at international, national, and community levels. The innovative curriculum she developed helps communities better prepare for emergencies; it has recently been revised to advance the inclusivity of diverse populations and incorporate a pandemic/epidemic preparedness module.

In addition to being a beloved and brilliant colleague during her seven years at WRC and beyond, Jenn was an incredible mother to her daughter Abaynesh.

Her legacy will continue to guide those working in the field of SRH and women’s and girls’ rights. It will benefit thousands of women and girls in crisis for generations to come.

We remember and we celebrate Jenn, today and every day.

Jennifer Schlecht in the field

Jenn’s Work

“In times of crisis, we depend on the most fail-safe of interventions: people helping people. In response to war, civil strife, floods or other disasters, a human health work force on the front lines saves lives.”

Jennifer Schlecht


A Girl No More: The Changing Norms of Child Marriage in Conflict

Jennifer wrote this 2016 report on the influences of parents’ decisions to marry off their young daughters, including concerns about poverty, protection from rape and its stigma, and prevention of pregnancy outside marriage. This research suggests that child marriage can be reduced when girls have access to education and other programming and when families have their basic needs met.

Early Relationships and Marriage in Conflict and Post-Conflict Settings: Vulnerability of Youth in Uganda

Jennifer collaborated on this 2013 article in Reproductive Health Matters on factors that contribute to early relationships and informal marriages in conflict and post-conflict settings, based on research taken in Uganda.

Integrating sexual and reproductive health into health emergency and disaster risk management

This 2012 policy brief discusses the integration of sexual and reproductive health in all aspects of health emergency and disaster risk management.

Facilitator’s Kit: Community Preparedness for Reproductive Health and Gender

Jennifer contributed substantially to the content development of this 2015 three-day curriculum with information and activities on community preparedness.

Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Programs in Humanitarian Settings: An In-Depth Look at Family Planning Services

In partnership with Save the Children, this report published in 2012 was co-researched and co-written by Jennifer. The report focused on family planning services for adolescent girls in humanitarian settings.


Frontline health workers: Saving lives during war and disaster

In 2013, Jennifer wrote this blog on front line health workers, noting the tragic deaths of seven health workers in Pakistan. She discussed how communities rely on these workers, but also they face risks carrying out their work daily.

Media Coverage of Jenn’s Work

Jennifer Schlecht
Humanitarian Settings a Key Focus At Family Planning Summit

Jennifer, who served as the co-chair of the Family Planning Working Group of the Inter-Agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crisis (IAWG), discussed how commitments and funding necessary to expand and scale up family planning services are missing. This media release focused on how the 2017 Family Planning Summit in London featured humanitarian assistance for the first time.

“Child Marriage Increases After Natural Disasters. Here’s How To Prevent It”

This HuffPost article highlights how child marriage increases after natural disasters. Jennifer talked about poverty being a driver of early marriage.

“Here’s What It’s Really Like To Be A Refugee Mom — & Here’s What You Can Do To Help”

Jennifer spoke to Romper about how displacement due to conflict or natural distasters can disrupt family and social systems.

“Child marriage perpetuates cycle of poverty for young people”

In 2012, Jennifer talked with the Deseret News in Utah on child marriage and poverty.

Remembering Jenn

Jennifer Schlecht in the field


“On behalf of all of Jenn’s friends and colleagues here at Johns Hopkins, I want to offer our deepest sympathies to her family and loved ones as we mourn her tragic and untimely passing as well as that of her beautiful daughter, Abay. I had the pleasure of working with Jenn for many years on studies of sexual and reproductive needs of very young adolescents in emergency contexts and on child marriage in humanitarian settings in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Her curiosity and energy were boundless and her passion for her work was such an inspiration to me and all of our partners. Jenn’s absence leaves a huge hole, but her presence is still felt every day as we continue to be guided by her gentle and powerful spirit.” — Court Robinson, Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

“‘Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.’ Perfect love casts out fear; it is more powerful than death itself. Jenn embodied such love and she will live on in our hearts always.” — Kate Paik, Women’s Refugee Commission

“For months, Jenn put her heart and soul into raising the profile of humanitarian settings at the Family Planning Summit in London in the summer of 2017. Through working collaboratively across IAWG partners, she helped to catalyze a sea change in how the broader sexual and reproductive health community views the importance of including women and girls affected by crises. I found her efforts leading up to the summit truly inspirational and have always thought of them as a model for me in how I do my own work.” — Sarah Rich, Women’s Refugee Commission

“When I think of Jenn, I think of her radiant smile, her warmth, and her true kindness. Jenn cared deeply for people and you felt that when you were with her. She was a soul that was filled with goodness. I feel lucky to have known and worked with her. And I am going to try to channel her goodness to others to honor the beautiful human that she was.” — Catherine Harrington, Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights

“I remember the day Jenn came into our office for the final round of interviewing for the position of Senior Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Program Officer. She was one of the finalists for the position. I remember her thoughtful, smart, measured responses to our questions – her kind demeanor, her quick smile. After the interview, I told the SRH Director. She’s amazing. Hire her now.” — Dale Buscher, Women’s Refugee Commission