Sexual & Reproductive Health

Photo By: The IRC/Gerald Martone

Emergency Response

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Following conflict or natural disasters, women and girls face extraordinary problems and difficulties that affect their sexual and reproductive health. The breakdown of social norms and infrastructure makes them extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse and other forms of gender-based violence, including domestic violence and rape. At the same time as their risks and needs are rising, services and support systems are frequently unavailable. And these gaps in services lead to more unplanned pregnancies, unsafe abortions and pregnancy complications—largely due to the lack of skilled attendants or health providers at childbirth and insufficient equipment and supplies. Without access to emergency obstetric and newborn care, many women and infants will die or suffer long-term health consequences that are entirely preventable with quality health care.

In any new humanitarian emergency, key sexual and reproductive health concerns (as outlined in the Minimum Initial Services Package for Reproductive Health in Crisis Situations, or MISP) include:

  • Preventing and responding to sexual violence
  • Preventing maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity
  • Reducing HIV transmission
  • Planning for comprehensive services in a coordinated manner

Our Work

  • The Women’s Refugee Commission has successfully pushed for government and UN policies that significantly improve sexual and reproductive health services for populations affected by crises. The international community has not always recognized these services as necessary when responding to an emergency, which has had serious consequences. As a result, we have focused intently on ensuring that priority actions for sexual and reproductive health (as outlined in the MISP) are implemented in the early days and weeks of a crisis. Our advocacy efforts have helped to ensure that the MISP is included within widely-accepted humanitarian guidelines, such as the Sphere handbook.  
  • We developed a MISP distance learning module to help humanitarian workers learn how to take these priority measures. You can get certified in the MISP distance learning module here.
  • When a new crisis occurs, we frequently release and disseminate advocacy statements, track how emergency response agencies and donors are funding and carrying out sexual and reproductive health activities and conduct field assessments to identify gaps in programs and to champion good practices.
  • We have invested in emergency preparedness planning, knowing that services that are in place prior to an emergency are more likely to be sustained when a crisis occurs. Preparedness efforts have included global advocacy for the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health in emergency preparedness and planning, as well as trainings conducted at the country level.

Reports from recent emergencies

  • MISP assessment in Jordan (Syria crisis): Reproductive Health Services for Syrian Refugees in Zaatri Refugee Camp and Irbid City, Jordan.
  • Sexual and reproductive health advocacy statements on behalf of the RHRC for the emergencies in Haiti, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, and the Horn of Africa
  • The MISP assessments following the Asian tsunami, the earthquake in Haiti (including an interagency assessment in Haiti) and the displacement of Darfuri refugees to eastern Chad