Health services for Syrian women caught up in war, foster safety and hope: UNFPA

UNFPA Syria/2019 The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is providing services to displaced women and girls across northeast Syria.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


Continued displacement from conflict-affected areas in northeast Syria leaves women and girls in urgent need of safe spaces, shelter and reproductive health services, according to a Flash Update this week from UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

More than 70,000 people from the northeast remain displaced in Al-Hasakah, Ar-Raqqa and Aleppo governorates due to ongoing conflict in the area. Over 17,500 of the IDPs are women of reproductive age.

In addition to continued drops in temperature, women face hazardous living conditions and increased risks.

And without adequate health care and other services, internally-displaced women and girls are more likely to suffer gender-based violence.

“Women and girls face multiple protection and reproductive health risks in northeast Syria. The risk of gender-based violence is particularly high in camps such as Al Hol, where 96 per cent of the camp population are women and children”, explained Karen Daduryan, UNFPA Representative in Syria.

Furthermore, “women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable and require special attention”, he said.

Hope in crisis

UNFPA, through its implementing partners, operates six “safe spaces” for women and girls in the wartorn region, to ensure safety and support.

They provide essential services to address gender-based violence, including psychosocial support, case management, awareness raising, vocational training, and access to more specialized services such as mental health and reproductive healthcare.

The safe spaces serve newly-displaced women, as well as those living in host communities, and there are also mobile teams and clinics, taking treatment to where it’s needed most.

Lifelines for women in need

Asma’a Al Issa, 32, was one of many women who received life-saving access to reproductive healthcare through UNFPA and partner organizations.

“I was worried before giving birth”, explained Ms. Al Issa. First displaced three years ago when her house in Al Qadisia Village was demolished, she now lives in Al Tapqqa, a city in Raqqa governorate, in a home which is still being rebuilt.

Ms. Al Issa received maternal health services from a clinic operated by the non-profit organization Al Mawada with support from UNFPA. She went into labour on 25 October, amid rising hostilities in the area.

With the skilled care provided by Hanan, a midwife at the clinic, her pregnancy went smoothly despite the violence and turmoil around her.

“Asma’a gave birth without any complications,” Hanan later explained. “It is a great mission to have saved her and her new baby’s life.”

“Now I am very happy to have a baby girl,” Ms. Al Issa told UNFPA. She was discharged with her and her daughter in healthy condition and high spirits.

More than 42,000 women beneficiaries

Since October last year, UNFPA and partners have provided reproductive health services, including safe childbirth, antenatal and postnatal care and family planning, to over 42,000 women of reproductive age. More than 39,000 services were provided to prevent, mitigate and respond to gender-based violence.

People living in 45 shelters and four IDP and refugee camps throughout the region were helped and between October and mid-January, UNFPA supported 40 deliveries.

“Asma’a is not a special case or an exception,” explained Dr. Adnan, a reproductive health coordinator working in the area. She’s proud of the healthcare that has been provided through international humanitarian efforts.

A sense of safety and hope, is another vital byproduct of the access to care that women have been given, amidst too much violence and despair: “She is one of thousands displaced and deprived families that we serve every day.”

Between March 2019 and mid-January, 189,463 services were provided in the Al-Hol camp alone.

Reproductive health and gender-based violence services as well as sanitary napkins and dignity kits have been provided, and literacy courses, in coordination with UNICEF.

“In certain cases, UNFPA and its partners deal with radical cultural and social norms while delivering gender-based violence and reproductive health services. And this requires tailored and innovative ways of reaching out to affected women and girls” noted the agency’s Syria Representative, Mr. Daduryan.

Dedication to safety and access

Relocations and continued displacement create obstacles for healthcare access, in addition to insufficient supplies of materials and overcrowding.

“The scope and severity of needs, as well as geographic spread in the northeast, require urgent scale-up of UNFPA’s humanitarian response”, he added.

“Due to generous support of multiple donors and dedicated work of partners, UNFPA has been able to reach out to most vulnerable women and girls with lifesaving and life sustaining reproductive health and gender-based violence services.”

UNFPA cites a number of challenges to continued support for women in North East Syria. These include overcrowding in collective shelters, insufficient supply of winterized clothes and limited specialized expertise in the provision of services to respond to gender-based violence.

“It is time to assess the results and gaps in outreach and quality of services to ensure that women and girls who need these services in camps, shelters, out-of-camp settlements and communities, have access to quality gender-based violence and reproductive health services and supplies,” urged Mr. Daduryan.

“We count on continued support of our donors and partners in this challenging task of ensuring health and dignity of all women affected by the crisis in northeast Syria.”

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