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U.N. calls for more funding to protect Syrian women and girls

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 14 Jan 2014 15:05 GMT
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A Syrian refugee cleans a boy's face outside a tent at Bab al-Salam refugee camp in Azaz, near the Syrian-Turkish border, January 13, 2013. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman
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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Over 2 million Syrian women and girls of reproductive age need assistance, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said as it called this week for some $81 million in funding to provide them with access to health and protection from gender violence.

“Every Syrian woman must have access to affordable reproductive healthcare and be protected from gender-based violence,” said UNFPA’s Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin.

Osotimehin added that the number of Syrian women and girls of reproductive age was estimated to reach five million by year end.

The UNFPA, which provides health services to reduce maternal deaths and the death of women and girls affected by the three-year-old conflict within Syria and in other countries affected by the crisis, said there are some 50,000 pregnant refugees who need care and about 21,000 newborns whose mothers are refugees.

Some 1.6 million Syrian women and girls of reproductive age are internally displaced while more than 500,000 are sheltering in neighbouring countries, according to the U.N. agency.

The UNFPA has distributed over half a million “dignity kits” with soap, sanitary pads and other basic hygiene items to help women affected by the humanitarian crisis triggered by the Syrian war, and has set up more than 20 reproductive health and mobile clinics in Jordan, Iraq and Egypt for the refugee population, as well as supporting 93 inside Syria.

Earlier this month, the UNFPA released figures showing that more than 38,000 people had appealed to the United Nations for help after facing sexual assault or other gender-based violence in Syria in 2013.

UNFPA Syria Regional Response Advisor Dan Baker told Reuters it was impossible to know how the numbers in Syria compared with the pre-conflict situation, and the figures did not prove that rape was being used as a systematic weapon of war.

Data is hard to collect because victims are often too scared or ashamed to seek help, so any figures are widely assumed to be a small sample of a bigger problem.

Thirty-one safe spaces for women were created in camps and host communities to respond to the emergency, the U.N. agency – which is also conducting awareness sessions for the prevention of gender-based violence – said.

WOMEN’S RIGHTS CURBED

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday that extremists in some armed opposition groups were imposing restrictive and discriminatory rules on women and girls.

Syrian refugees in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan told HRW that extremists in northern and northeastern Syria were requiring women and girls to wear headscarves and full-length robes or incur punishment.

In certain areas extremists were going further, taking steps such as forbidding women and girls to move freely in public, work and attend school.

“Extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra are undermining the freedoms that Syria’s women and girls enjoyed, which were a longtime strength of Syrian society,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, the group’s women’s rights director.

“What kind of victory do these groups promise for women and girls who are watching their rights slip away?”

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