With 20 years of experience in working on sexual and gender-based violence in the humanitarian sector, Abirafeh reminded us of how women’s and girls’ challenges are aggravated in context of crisis, with women and girls deliberately targeted, and conflicts amplifying pre-existing insecurities. Because of the many protracted crises around the world – too many women continue to live in so-called “humanitarian settings” with little access to security and support. These settings are designed to deliver short-term relief but this no longer reflects the nature of protracted emergencies. “In these settings”, Abirafeh recounted, “we face the “tyranny of the urgent” – meaning gender issues are readily sidelined “for later” – even when the emergency goes from months to years. “Our role as actors and advocates is critical”, Abirafeh stated: “we must ensure that attention, support, resources and capacity are available to fully implement SRHR. And we must do so in a way that prioritises women’s AGENCY and ensures that they have a choice and a voice, and the right to decide about their bodies and their lives.”
Peter Van Acker, the Director of Humanitarian Aid, Transitional Development and Governance within the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation was asked to explain how Belgium takes on SRHR in its humanitarian aid. Van Acker recalled that since 2014, SRHR is included in the Belgian strategy for humanitarian aid, a legally binding document. In its role as chair of the donor group of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Belgium has pushed the ICRC to ensure its sexual violence strategy is implemented at field level. Belgium has also been supporting SRHR through its core contributions to multilateral organisations such as UNFPA and UNICEF. In its role as a donor and board member of international organisations Belgium can advocate for SRHR.
Catherine Giboin, board member of Médecins du Monde France (MdM) brought in the NGO perspective on SRHR in emergencies. Giboin initiated and contributed to the development of the strategy on Sexual and reproductive health and rights of MdM. Giboin testified that it is possible to deliver SRHR services in the context of emergencies. She bore witness of MdM’s work in the Central African Republic, where they integrate SGBV in primary health care, working with community health workers and local NGOs. Since the start of the project, 2,000 cases of SGBV were taken on. “We used to be service providers, working for beneficiaries, yet, from a human rights-based approach we have learned to look at the people in need as right holders and work through the mobilisation of communities. If you do not mobilise the community, you can open a clinic but no one will show up. You need to start tackling the stigma of SGBV within the community.”
Giboin underlined how family planning in emergencies is life-saving and pointed out how SRHR in humanitarian crisis was successfully put on top of the agenda of the Family Planning (FP2020) Summit in London, July 2017. Many challenges remain though, one of them understanding what access women have to safe abortions in conflict settings.
Sabien Lahaye-Battheu, vice president of the Parliamentarians for the 2030 Agenda concluded: “As policy makers we have a critical role to fulfil: we must ensure that attention, support, resources and capacity are available to fully implement sexual and reproductive health and rights, also in times of crisis, so She Can Decide. With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we have committed to realise universal access to sexual and reproductive health. Let’s take this promise forward, in the most inclusive way we can.”
This seminar on SRHR in emergencies, organised on International Women’s Day for the 1st anniversary of She Decides was hosted by the Parliamentarians for the 2030 Agenda, with the support of its secretariat, Sensoa and Countdown 2030 Europe.