Syria

Risking Death to Give Birth: The consequences of conflict on the health needs of women and girls in Syria

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Executive Summary

Human Appeal is a humanitarian organisation delivering disaster relief and development programmes around the world for nearly 30 years in order to drive global change and make the biggest positive impact on the lives of people who need it most. We are a faith-based organisation, inspired by the Islamic values of; excellence, accountability and transparency, compassion, justice, empowerment, trust and respect. These values are core humanitarian values, and they guide us in serving the people we help.

Currently operating out of Al Imaan hospital, five Primary Healthcare Centres and emergency mobile clinics across northwest Syria, Human Appeal have been helping to provide emergency obstetric, paediatric and gynaecological services for women and children for over five years.

In this report, we use a human rights approach to highlight some of the ways in which the Syrian conflict has adversely affected women and girls through the lens of their right to reproductive health.

We identify where quality maternal healthcare is lacking in Syria, particularly in the northwest, as well the major challenges faced by medical staff and patients alike who have risked their lives daily under threat of deliberate attack.
For almost a decade, millions of Syrian women of reproductive age affected by the crisis and thousands of medical staff have demonstrated tremendous strength and resilience in the face of unfathomable adversity. However, they are still faced with a global aid industry and political arena that, overall, is neglecting women’s health.

Conflict-affected states currently receive an average of 60 percent less funding for reproductive healthcare despite all major health indicators being worse. Syrian women are also routinely being denied the opportunity to ensure that their right to health is upheld and are still grossly underrepresented in decision-making positions at the local, state and institutional levels.

At the same time, maternal mortality has risen by up to 40 percent, along with the risk of preterm birth, miscarriage and undernourishment in both mother and child due to the conflict, and the widespread decimation of the healthcare system has left pregnant women and girls with few options.

For so many Syrian women and girls, access to sustained reproductive health services can be a matter of life or death. We therefore call upon the international community to heighten their commitment to protecting the full realisation of the reproductive health rights of women and girls, especially in time of conflict when the need is often most severe.

Recommendations:

  1. Aid organisations and institutions must allocate additional resources to increase, improve and repair reproductive health (RH), and sanitation and hygiene services in northwest Syria.

  2. Aid organisations must acknowledge the gravity of women and girl’s health needs and thereby initiate measures to ensure reproductive health services are mainstreamed into humanitarian response efforts.

  3. Greater efforts must be made to improve the representation of Syrian women in decision-making and negotiation positions at the local, state and institutional levels to ensure the reproductive health needs of women and girls are recognised and addressed in peace agreements.

  4. Parties responsible for war crimes, such as the deliberate targeting of health infrastructure, including maternity hospitals, disproportionate and indiscriminate killing of civilians and perpetration of gender-based violence as tactics of war, must be held to account under international law.