There are more forcibly displaced people globally than ever before. Women and girls make up 50 percent of refugee populations and face heightened barriers to accessing reproductive healthcare. The Global Gag Rule and defunding of UNFPA threatens healthcare, particularly for women and girls of reproductive age. This World Refugee Day, we stand in coalition with all forcibly displaced people and the programs that support them. We will fight the deadly policies that curb access to crucial reproductive healthcare and disproportionately impact refugee women and girls.
In addition to the re-implementation and expansion of the Global Gag Rule, the Trump administration discontinued funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). UNFPA is a global leader in the provision of sexual and reproductive healthcare services to forcibly displaced women and girls. The U.S. was previously the fourth largest donor to UNFPA and contributed $75 million annually. These funding cuts translate directly into increased health risks and deaths of women and children. In 2016, with U.S. support, UNFPA was able to save the lives 2,340 women from dying during pregnancy and childbirth; prevent 947,000 unintended pregnancies; ensure 1,251 fistula surgeries; and prevent 295,000 abortions. The Trump administration is co-opting foreign women’s bodies and viewing women’s lives as collateral damage for political and partisan gain.
An estimated 26 million women and girls of reproductive age live in crisis situations. Forcibly displaced women and girls face higher risks of maternal mortality, unintended pregnancy, sexual violence, and unsafe abortion. Adolescent girls are at a particularly heightened risk for sexual exploitation, including trafficking, transactional sex for survival, and early and forced marriage.
While the Global Gag Rule technically has an exception for humanitarian assistance, including activities related to migration and refugee assistance, many of the organizations that service refugee communities in addition to other populations may be affected. The chilling effect may lead organizations devoted to humanitarian assistance to over-regulate and refuse to discuss or provide abortion-related services, even when permissible, for fear of violating a confusing policy.
In areas ranging from Nigeria to Jordan to Colombia, UNFPA and local organizations provide women and girls fleeing violence with family planning services, counseling, feminine hygiene products, kindness, and relative safety. Defunding UNFPA and other organizations that provide or advise about abortions puts an already vulnerable community at risk.
Refugees are some of the most vulnerable people in the world. They rely on the decency and humanity of those of us who are lucky enough to live in relative safety and peace. They need care; not cruelty.
We believe all people should have access to sexual and reproductive healthcare regardless of where they live, and will fight for those at greatest risk. Join us in supporting UNFPA and the reproductive health of refugee communities.
Here are three things you can do right now to take action to protect access to reproductive healthcare for refugees around the world: