ETHIOPIA – Women, adolescents, girls and others underserved in the Tigray humanitarian response

The Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) calls on the international community to ensure that the sexual and reproductive health needs and rights of women, adolescents, girls, and other groups facing discrimination affected by the ongoing violence in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia are addressed. Since 1995, IAWG – whose members include a diverse group of humanitarian organizations, sexual and reproductive health service providers, advocates, and UN agencies – has worked to ensure that essential, lifesaving, and rights fulfilling sexual and reproductive health services are a core element of the healthcare services provided in crisis-affected settings. As a global coalition of providers of and advocates for upholding sexual and reproductive health and rights in humanitarian settings, IAWG is gravely concerned for the safety, well-being, and rights of women, adolescents, girls, and other groups facing discrimination impacted by the crisis in Tigray.

In November 2020, hostilities erupted in Ethiopia’s northernmost region of Tigray, home to the country’s estimated seven million ethnic Tigrayans. Since November, reports on the humanitarian and human rights situation in Tigray have become increasingly dire with evidence of attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, including destruction and looting of health facilities and increasing cases of sexual and gender-based violence against civilians. Reports reveal that the number of displaced people has steadily increased in the region and confirm that an estimated two million are internally displaced peoples. In May this year, humanitarian agencies estimated that five million people in the region, or more than two-thirds of the population, were in need of emergency food supplies. The UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported the same number of people have been without access to electricity, communications and other essential services for more than four months. Reports of destruction of infrastructure and health care services suggested that only one in ten hospitals remain functioning, some of which are occupied by armed soldiers.

On March 22, 2021, multiple heads of UN agencies released a joint statement responding to reports of grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including those related to sexual violence against civilians, a lack of access to services for the clinical management of rape, and a lack of accountability for perpetrators. The statement called for an immediate investigation by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights into the conflict-related sexual violence in the region. In April, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict confirmed horrific stories of sexual violence perpetrated by armed combatants including the systematic use of rape and gang rape; holding women and girls captive for days and repeatedly assaulting them; targeting young girls and pregnant women; forcing family members to watch their mothers, daughters, wives, and sisters being brutally violated. At least 22,500 survivors of sexual violence are estimated to be in need of care including clinical management of rape services, while only one percent of health facilities in the region have capacity to provide these services. As far back as March, only one facility in the Tigray region of Ethiopia was providing the full range of services for the clinical management of survivors of rape, and emergency contraception was only available in less than half of the facilities assessed. In addition to being a serious human rights violation, sexual violence can also lead to increased rates of unintended pregnancy, unsafe abortion, maternal and neonatal death, miscarriage, premature labor, sexually transmitted infections and mental health consequences for women, adolescents and girls. Corresponding rises of documented other forms of gender-based violence including sex for survival, sexual exploitation and abuse in the context of humanitarian aid, and child, early and forced marriage are also contributing to drastic increases in unmet SRH needs across the region.

FULL REPORT: Women, adolescents, girls and other groups facing discrimination are critically underserved in the Tigray humanitarian crisis, by the Inter-Agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises, 23 June 2021