Press Release

Women in Tigray need immediate support: Race against time to save lives

28 May 2021

New York, 28 May 2021 - In the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, where conflict erupted last November, hundreds of thousands of women and adolescent girls remain in urgent need of life-saving health, protection and support services. Gross violations and abuses against civilians, including sexual violence, continue to be reported. The well-being of women and adolescent girls is further threatened by food insecurity, the spread of COVID-19, and a lack of fully functioning health facilities. To scale up the response, UNFPA is deploying more personnel, security reinforcements, and supplies to deliver life-saving services. 

For over 3.8 million people, access to services remains limited, while only 38% of health facilities are operational and a mere 29% have partial capacity to provide post-rape treatment. Maternal health services continue to be severely limited with comprehensive emergency obstetric care available in only 6% of health facilities across the region.  

“The situation of women and adolescent girls in Tigray and border areas of Amhara and Afar remains dire,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of UNFPA, the UN sexual and reproductive health agency. “We see alarming levels of sexual violence, and thousands of women lack access to health and protection services.”

UNFPA estimates that more than 110,000 women are currently pregnant with more than 10,000 births expected each month. Of these, over half (5,800) will likely experience complications, with potentially deadly consequences, if access to emergency obstetric care is not made available as soon as possible.

“UNFPA calls for urgent support to protect the rights, safety and dignity of women and girls in northern Ethiopia,” Dr. Kanem said. “Insecurity continues to hamper humanitarian access, making it difficult to reach people in remote locations with life-saving assistance. We are in a race against time to save lives.”  

Due to the destruction and looting of health facilities, pregnant women are deprived of full access to health care and face increased risk of maternal and newborn death.

“Women are delivering on the move, in schools or in the bush, with only assistance from other travelers or the host community. They arrive here malnourished and starving”, said a site Coordinator, for displaced persons at Mekele, to a UNFPA colleague.  

Despite recent improvements in access, active conflict in various areas is restricting the humanitarian response. In sites for displaced persons, pregnant and lactating women are suffering from malnourishment and many are unable to breastfeed. Due to grief, trauma, and exhaustion, most of them are in a severe state of psychological distress, which limits their ability to seek services. 

The level of violence calls for a robust mental health and psychosocial support response, in addition to immediate access to medical and protection services, including protection from sexual exploitation and abuse.

Humanitarian assistance is required to meet urgent needs in Tigray and the border regions of Ahmara and Afar. The Government opened humanitarian access in Tigray in early March, but the access situation remains fluid and constantly changing. UNFPA has been working urgently with humanitarian partners to provide immediate life-saving services to those most in need, including survivors of sexual violence, but much more remains to be done. To date, UNFPA has:

  • Delivered emergency reproductive health kits to meet needs of more than 80,000 people with services for safe birth, antenatal care, clinical management of rape, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including  post-rape treatments kits to benefit adults  and children in the Tigray region. 
  • Trained over 300 health professionals in the clinical management of rape, gender-based violence in emergencies, protection from sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA), as well as the minimum initial service package for sexual and reproductive health during crisis across Amhara and Tigray regions. 
  • Distributed over 11,000 dignity kits to vulnerable women and girls in Tigray, Afar and Amhara, with sanitary supplies and other essential items.
  • Distributed personal protective equipment for COVID-19 prevention and risk-mitigation at 7 health facilities and camps across the region. 
  • Established a toll-free national hotline for survivors of gender-based violence (GBV), with Ethiopia Women Lawyers Association and Ethio Telecom, to provide vital support, counselling, and referrals to existing services, including in Tigray Region, in Amharic, Afaan Oromo and Tigrinya languages.
  • Provided comprehensive GBV services, including post-rape treatment, prevention of sexually transmited infections and HIV, legal and psychosocial counseling and protection to GBV survivors through One-Stop Center and Safe House in Mekele, Tigray.   
  • Trained and deployed 20 midwives to provide sexual and reproductive health, including maternal health services, in 17 health facilities and sites for internally displaced persons in Tigray and conflict-bordering areas of Amhara and Afar regions.

UNFPA has a humanitarian presence in Addis Ababa, Tigray, Amhara and Afar regional offices to oversee efforts for sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender-based violence prevention and response, mental health and psychosocial support, and protection from sexual exploitation and abuse. 

The current needs of women and girls outstrip UNFPA’s current resources to provide a comprehensive response. UNFPA estimates that at least  $12 million will be needed to scale up the humanitarian response to support the rights and dignity of women and girls.


Photo 1: Conflict-affected women with their UNFPA Dignity Kits at Meserete IDP camp in Mekelle, Tigray. Photo by © UNFPA Ethiopia - Paula Seijo. Please click here to download. 


Photo 2: A gender-based violence survivor receives care at the One-Stop Center in Ayder Hospital, Mekelle, Tigray. Photo by © UNFPA Ethiopia - Paula Seijo. Please click here to download. 

Photo 3: A midwife from UNFPA and the Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS) supporting the child vaccination scheme in Shire, Tigray. Photo by © UNFPA Ethiopia - Paula Seijo. Please click here to download.

About UNFPA:

UNFPA is the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency. It is formally named the United Nations Population Fund. UNFPA's mission is to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person's potential is fulfilled. UNFPA calls for the realization of reproductive rights for all and supports access to a wide range of sexual and reproductive health services, including voluntary family planning, quality maternal health care and comprehensive sexuality education.

International enquiries:

  • For enquiries on UNFPA’s Humanitarian Programme, please contact: Ann Erb-Leoncavallo: +1 917 860 7256:  
  • For international media and interview enquiries, please contact: Eddie Wright: +1 917 8312074:

Local enquiries:

For media and interview enquiries in Ethiopia, please contact: 

  • Abraham Gelaw, UNFPA Senior Communications Officer (Addis Ababa):  / +251 911488627
  • Paula Fernández Seijo, UNFPA Communication Specialist (Mekele, Tigray) / +251 935597136

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