When she was 17, Yatta was told by her friends that using family planning could lead to barrenness and even death. Lacking accurate information and unwilling to take those risks, Yatta got pregnant and decided her only option was an abortion—a crime in most cases in Ethiopia. Yatta had the procedure by an unskilled health provider and it nearly cost her her life.
Women and adolescent girls in refugee and internally displaced settings struggle with unwanted, unplanned and poorly spaced pregnancies; this is often due to lack of access to counseling, contraceptives and information. Not being able to access family planning threatens their lives and the well-being of their families.
Like Yatta, many women are driven to extreme measures to prevent unwanted pregnancies, putting their lives in danger. A 2003 study of Burmese women refugees living in Thailand revealed that two-thirds of interviewed women tried to induce their own abortion through herbal medicines and other dangerous methods. Such practices often require immediate care and treatment. Over a three-month period in 2008, postabortion care was the most frequently sought emergency obstetric service in southern Sudan, indicating an urgent need for family planning services.
Even where family planning services do exist, women and girls are often deterred from using contraception by partners, community leaders, peers—and sometimes even by health providers. A study of refugee women in Tanzania revealed that 39 percent of women who sought family planning services discontinued their visits due to their husbands’ disapproval. In many areas affected by crisis, displaced persons are unaware of the benefits of family planning. For those who have heard about contraception, many do not know where it is available or cannot access it because supplies at their local clinics are insufficient.
The Women’s Refugee Commission’s sexual and reproductive health program works to address the critical gaps in family planning:
In 2011, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Women’s Refugee Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) undertook a multi-country study of family planning in five refugee contexts. The goal of the baseline studies, conducted in both urban and camp settings, was to inform future programs to better meet the family planning needs of women, men and adolescents. Country-specific reports of our findings for Jordan, Malaysia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda, as well as a summary report, are available.
The Women’s Refugee Commission led a pilot project on community-based distribution of family planning services with partners in Malakal, South Sudan. Read a short report summarizing our activities. The report is also available in Arabic.
In 2009, we identified gaps in existing policies and guidelines for family planning in crisis-affected settings through our contributions to a Reproductive Health Access, Information and Services in Emergencies (RAISE) Initiative review. Read more in the study publication.