At of the end of 2016, there were more than 65 million forcibly displaced persons in the world. Women and girls make up nearly half of this population and they are the most vulnerable to the consequences of displacement: they are at higher risk for sexual exploitation; forced marriage; and often lack access to basic health services, including family planning and reproductive health care. As emergency situations and conflicts continue to unfold, more must be done to provide quality, comprehensive family planning information, services and supplies to women and girls in humanitarian settings.
Family Planning in Humanitarian Settings Saves Lives
Family planning and reproductive health care should be available to all women and girls, including those in humanitarian settings. Not only is it a human right for women to be able to decide freely the number and timing of their pregnancies, but providing comprehensive, quality family planning saves lives. More than 50% of maternal deaths occur in fragile states; but, if access to family planning was universal, there would be a reduction in the number of unintended pregnancies and maternal mortalities.
There is Demand for Family Planning in Humanitarian Settings
Many women in humanitarian settings want to delay or limit pregnancy. One study looking at three conflict-affected countries in Africa found that 30% to 40% of women wanted to delay childbearing for two years and another 12% to 35% wanted no more children. While short-acting methods are more frequently available in humanitarian settings, evidence indicates that if long-acting methods are available, women will use them. This not only leads to a decrease in unmet need for family planning, but also allows women to exercise their reproductive choice.
Family Planning is Feasible in Humanitarian Settings
Organizations including CARE and the International Rescue Committee have successfully provided contraceptives in humanitarian settings such as Chad and the DRC, where programs resulted in an increase in new family planning users—including those who chose a long-acting and reversible contraceptive when it was available. UN agencies also play a key role in ensuring quality reproductive health care is available to people affected by crisis. UNFPA is a leader in providing reproductive health kits, including contraceptives, at the onset of an emergency in support of the Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) for reproductive health. UNFPA’s commitment to providing contraceptives, including long-acting reversible contraceptives, in both non-conflict and conflict-affected areas is essential in preventing unintended pregnancy and must continue to be a pillar of its work.
Providing Family Planning in Humanitarian Settings Supports the Achievement of Broader Development Goals
Providing family planning information, services and supplies in humanitarian settings will support the achievement of other development goals. Sustainable Development Goals 3 (Good Health and Well-Being) and 5 (Gender Equality) are rooted in universal access to sexual and reproductive health. This includes those hardest to reach, including those in humanitarian settings. In order to achieve the SDGs, family planning and reproductive health care must be provided to every person who wants it.
Next week, the family planning community will convene in London for the Family Planning Summit to mark the halfway point to FP2020’s goal of enabling 120 million more women and girls to use contraceptives by 2020. This year, FP2020 has recognized the importance of meeting the family planning needs of women and girls in humanitarian settings through a spotlight event. It is encouraging that FP2020 has provided this space to show that not only is family planning in humanitarian settings lifesaving, but is also feasible.
Now it’s up to countries, UN agencies and donors to prioritize family planning in humanitarian settings. Adequate funding must be provided for supplies and providers. Affected populations should continue to have a voice in program development, and awareness campaigns about family planning and reproductive health services should be implemented.