United Nations: Women Living in War-Torn Countries Need Comprehensive Reproductive Health Services

U.N. Security Council and CEDAW Committee Address Lack of Essential Health Care for Women Living in Conflict

(PRESS RELEASE) Acknowledging the devastating impact of sexual violence, particularly when it is used as a weapon of war on women, this week two United Nations bodies—the UN Security Council and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee)—took action to reaffirm the rights to comprehensive reproductive health services for women living in conflict settings.

The UN Security Council’s Resolution 2122, unanimously passed on Wednesday, calls on all member states to ensure all sexual and reproductive health care options are given to all women affected by conflict, particularly those impregnated by rape. It builds upon the recently-passed Resolution 2106 that aims to ensure survivors of sexual violence receive comprehensive reproductive health services without discrimination.

Also this week, the CEDAW Committee introduced a new general recommendation on women in conflict settings, affirming their right to reproductive health services, including emergency contraception and safe abortion.

The Center for Reproductive Rights commends the important work of the UN Security Council and CEDAW Committee in addressing violence against women and recognizing the human rights of all women.    

Said Rebecca Brown, director of global advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Violence against women has been a war tactic for far too long.

“And because of this tragic reality, women living in conflict areas are often victimized twice: first when they are sexually violated and a second time when their governments deny them essential medical treatment.

“The United Nations is right to seize this opportunity and take every step possible to hold these governments accountable for these egregious human rights violations, end gender-based violence, and ensure all women have access to reproductive health care.”

Women and girls are increasingly targeted by sexual violence as a tactic of war in areas plagued by conflict. Even after such conflicts end, gender-based violence and sexual violence rates increase in post-conflict settings.

For example, between 100,000 and 250,000 Rwandan women were raped during the three months of genocide in 1994. And UN agencies estimate that more than 60,000 women were raped during the civil war in Sierra Leone (1991-2002), up to 60,000 in the former Yugoslavia (1992-1995), and at least 200,000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1998.

Of the 125 countries worldwide with restrictive abortion laws, 93 do not explicitly permit survivors of sexual violence to access to legal abortion services.  Further, in countries with restrictive abortion laws that do permit women access to abortion services after rape, women may face onerous procedural barriers such as evidentiary requirements—which can include police reports and certificates confirming the rape occurred from prosecutors—that can make it nearly impossible to access such services.