Integrate Women's Reproductive Needs in Humanitarian Assistance and Development Efforts, Executive Director Urges

26 October 2001
Author: UNFPA

The reproductive needs of women need to be recognized as both emergency and development priorities, and should be integrated into both humanitarian assistance and development efforts, Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said at a 26 October meeting at UN Headquarters. “Women's reproductive needs cross all boundaries of war and peace, space and time.”

“Women, Peace and Security: Improving Women's Protection and Supporting Their Role in Peace Building” was the topic of the round table, organized by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). The round table marked the first anniversary of Resolution 1325 on “Women, Peace and Security” adopted by the UN Security Council on 31 October 2000, and also featured presentations by UNIFEM Executive Director Noelen Heyzer, and representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees.

For many years and through many crises, women's specific needs have often been forgotten in relief efforts, she said, pointing out that “women get pregnant and deliver their babies under all circumstances and in all settings.”

Although women in general are non-combatants, they are often the most affected by the violence of conflict and displacement through rape, torture, brutality and murder used as a weapon of war, said Ms. Obaid.

For women in emergency situations, pregnancy can be fatal. “Refugees are much more likely than other women to suffer from iron deficiency anaemia and other problems related to nutrition. Miscarriages are common among women in these situations as is a heightened risk of complications. Childbirth under emergency conditions is dangerous because of the risk of infection and lack of skilled care,” stated the Executive Director.

Women who see that their needs are being recognized will be more likely to take an active part in reconstruction and development efforts, Ms. Obaid stated. “They will come forth to participate in peace building because they have not been excluded but rather recognized and included in all efforts.”

Since 1994, UNFPA has focused international attention on issues of reproductive health and the rights of women and adolescents in emergency situations, she said. The Fund has steadily increased its support to populations in emergency situations since then, especially to women victimized by war.

Mark Malloch Brown, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, chaired the round table.

Resolution 1325 urges Member States to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts. It also calls on parties to armed conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict.

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