Press Release

Funding shortfall, lack of protection for four million women and girls further destabilizes Central Sahel

19 October 2020

Rising violence in the Central Sahel region has created a protection crisis for women and girls, who face fear and trauma in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Of the 13.4 million people who need humanitarian assistance, three million are women and adolescent girls of reproductive age, and one million are adolescent girls between ages ten and 14.

Due to conflict and displacement, they face escalating levels of gender-based violence (GBV), child marriage, and exploitation and abuse, a situation that demands urgent action and funding from the international community. 

“It is time to prioritize the rights and needs of women and girls in Central Sahel,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency.  “They are disproportionately affected by this crisis and we must heed their calls for solidarity and support, and for peace and justice.”

The protection crisis in Central Sahel is compounded by the destruction of schools and health facilities. Violence between armed groups has forced 150 health centres to close. The disruption of health services, including sexual and reproductive health services, compounded by COVID-19, leaves women and girls in dire and desperate conditions. 

UNFPA’s humanitarian operations in the Central Sahel are underfunded, and urgently need more support. As of mid-October, UNFPA has received 28% of the $27.6 million it needs for humanitarian assistance, and 68% of the $9.3 million needed for the COVID-19 response in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger for this year. 

Before COVID-19, 49 per cent of women and girls aged 15-49 had experienced physical and sexual violence, and 89 per cent had undergone female genital mutilation. An estimated 76 per cent of girls aged 15-19 in Niger and 51 per cent in Burkina Faso were married before age 18. 

Given rising needs, protection from GBV must be central to humanitarian response efforts. In last year’s humanitarian planning for Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, less than three per cent of the financial requirements addressed GBV, and it is estimated that only 12 per cent of affected areas in Burkina Faso offer specialized services to GBV survivors.

Despite these challenges, progress is being made together with partners. In Niger, children and adolescents have improved access to GBV services. In Mali, state-run one-stop centers that provide multi-sectoral care for survivors are expanding. And Burkina Faso has put in place its first GBV coordination structure this year. These examples must be scaled up and replicated.

The Call to Action for the Protection from GBV in Emergencies, a groundbreaking global initiative with 86 members from member states, international organisations and NGOs, provides a framework to enhance collective efforts to eliminate GBV.  Its new Roadmap 2021-2025 was launched on 25 September 2020 at the 75th United Nations General Assembly. 

UNFPA is advocating for the world to listen to women and girls who are on the frontlines demanding change, and include them in decision-making.  

“Women and young people are part of the solution and their leadership and full participation in humanitarian, development and peace efforts is absolutely critical for a sustainable future,” said UNFPA’s Dr. Kanem.


For more information and interview requests, please contact:

Eddie Wright, Media Specialist, UNFPA: Tel.: +1 917 831 2074;


We use cookies and other identifiers to help improve your online experience. By using our website you agree to this. To learn more, including how to change your settings, see our cookies policy.