SYRIA: Sexual and reproductive health and rights must be at the heart of response strategies

Syrian War five years on

Today marks five years of ongoing conflict in Syria. A crisis which has ravaged an entire country and affected more than 12.2 million people, 4 million of whom are women and girls of reproductive age.

It is abundantly clear that women and girls are disproportionately affected in humanitarian crises, and war does not exempt them from the threat of rape, violence, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortion, maternal morbidity or death. It only intensifies the risks.

Syria cannot remain a silent crisis for women and girls. To effectively protect women and girls, we must ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights are at the centre of emergency response strategies. For this, we need increased funding, integrated services and solid partnerships.The prolific instances of gender-based violence mean that governments are duty-bound to implement emergency response strategies to protect women refugees.

Poor response systems and EU Member States’ willingness to send refugees back to an environment where they are at increased risk of death and violence, are indicative of collective amnesia on pledges to aid refugees in crisis.

As of March 4, the EU has proposed to ratify the Council of Europe's Istanbul Convention, aimed at combatting violence against women, regardless of their status. Thus far only 12 EU Member States have ratified this, making it extremely difficult to monitor and prevent gender-based violence.

Continuous migration means that responses must be quick and adaptive. IPPF EN member association H.E.R.A, the Health Education and Research Association in Macedonia, has been providing immediate gynaecological services to refugee women and counselling on gender-based violence. This has proved essential as more than 650,000 refugees have entered Macedonia so far; up to 50 percent of whom are women. Yet, the opening and closing of borders only perpetuates an already precarious situation, leaving thousands stranded, with no access to these essential health services.

Syrians now form the largest refugee population in the world, as millions have fled the clutches of violence that has ravaged their homes. This is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Turning a blind eye to the thousands of refugees on the border of Europe won’t change this fact. The EU must take sufficient action now before it's too late.

By Dearbhla Crosse, Communications Advisor, International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network