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UNFPA calls for protection of women and adolescent girls in northeastern Syria and end to hostilities

15 October 2019

“UNFPA is extremely concerned about the current situation in northeastern Syria,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund. “The military operation poses significant protection risks for civilians, particularly women and girls, and serious risks and limitations to humanitarian actors,” she said. UNFPA calls for an end to hostilities and unimpeded access to provide life-saving services to those in need.

One of the concerns is gender-based violence. “Prior to the military operation, the risk of gender-based violence was already high with harassment, family violence, sexual violence and child marriage among the many forms of GBV documented throughout Syria,” said Dr. Kanem. “GBV is likely to increase because of displacement, especially since some movement routes are unsafe. Moreover, with winter approaching, health and protection risks associated with displacement are expected to increase substantially”, she said.

“Those most at risk of gender-based violence are widows, divorcees or female heads of households with limited family or community support, and adolescent girls,” said Luay Shabaneh, UNFPA Regional Director for Arab States. Restriction of movement continues to impact girls, particularly adolescent girls, due to fear of harassment, sexual violence and risks of abduction. “The elderly and people with disabilities remain among the most neglected and unsupported categories of people, and they are at risk of violence, especially sexual, psychological and emotional abuse,” he warned.

Given the volatility of the situation, determining the number of displaced people remains difficult. Recent OCHA and partner reports place the number of displaced between 160,000 and 209,000 people.  

UNFPA supports nine Women and Girls Safe Spaces, 32 mobile teams and 22 health facilities in northeast Syria.  “Because of the military operation, a UNFPA-supported maternity facility serving 40,000 people closed after being partially destroyed, and one women and girls safe space is no longer operational,” said Mr. Shabaneh. “The security situation continues to hamper access to facilities and services, with hospitals and clinics targeted.”

“UNFPA believes that every woman and girl in Syria has the right to sexual and reproductive health services and protection from GBV,” said UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem.  In these circumstances, UNFPA has been able to distribute dignity kits to people in need that include much-needed sanitary supplies, and reproductive health kits to health partners, which contain life-saving medical supplies, medication and equipment.

“During this critical time, UNFPA calls on the international community to ensure that civilians, and in particular women and girls, are protected in accordance with international humanitarian law, and that sustained, unimpeded and safe humanitarian access to civilians is guaranteed at all times,” stressed Dr. Kanem.

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