You are here

Message of UNFPA Acting Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem
World Humanitarian Day
19 August 2017

Every woman has the right to decide whether or when she will become pregnant, to give birth safely and to be protected from gender-based violence. Yet every day, untold millions of women and girls, whose lives have been upended by wars, conflicts or natural disasters, cannot enjoy these rights.

Health systems and the rule of law collapse under the weight of conflict, instability and insecurity. When this happens, women in their childbearing years face heightened risk of unintended pregnancy, disability or death from delivering without the help of a doctor or midwife. Women and girls also are increasingly vulnerable to rape and sexual exploitation.

Humanitarian response must never neglect the special needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls. Whether a woman lives or dies in a crisis can depend on whether she has access to critical sexual and reproductive health services, such as emergency obstetric care and 24/7 referral systems for emergencies.

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, provides life-saving sexual and reproductive health services to millions of women and girls and works to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in 56 countries in crisis.

But the challenges are enormous, and UNFPA cannot by itself meet all the ever-growing need for services. Collective action is essential to ensure that every woman, regardless of whether she is a refugee or displaced within her country, can prevent an unintended pregnancy, can give birth safely and can live free from violence.