As a brutal civil war in the Tigray region of Ethiopia continues, Ipas Ethiopia is taking action to ensure that sexual and reproductive health care services are a priority at more than 125 health facilities across the region—a move prompted by widespread reports that rape and sexual violence are being used against women and girls as a weapon of war.
There is “an astonishing level of human suffering” in Tigray, according to a recent news dispatch that included graphic accounts of women and girls being gang raped and held captive by soldiers for weeks at a time. The report said some women are begging to be killed to end their misery.
The United Nations has called for all parties to prohibit the use of sexual violence and to cease hostilities, but news agencies say the humanitarian crisis is worsening. “Civilians, and particularly women, are bearing the brunt of the most disturbing violence,” the New York Times said, noting that more than 500 cases of sexual assaults had been recorded at just five health centers in Tigray.
Against this backdrop, Ipas Ethiopia is moving swiftly to help health facilities prioritize sexual and reproductive health care services, including abortion care, and to re-establish those services in areas where they have been disrupted.
“The need for these services in Tigray is tremendous,” says Saba Kidanemariam, director of Ipas Ethiopia. “Our goal is to complement the work of humanitarian agencies already working there. We’ll be conducting refresher trainings in abortion and contraceptive care for hundreds of health workers, and also will work with private pharmacists to ensure that abortion pills are available throughout the region, so that women can manage their abortions themselves, without needing to go to a health facility.”
At the community level, Ipas will provide funding for the New Millennium Women Empowerment Organization, which works on gender equity issues, to help women effectively access and use abortion pills. One goal will be reaching women who are living in centers for internally displaced persons. New Millennium will also work to establish referral systems to connect women and girls to facilities or mobile clinics where they can get sexual and reproductive health care.
Ipas has worked in Ethiopia, Africa’s second most-populous country, since the country’s abortion law was liberalized in 2005 and has become a regional leader in establishing abortion services and creating reproductive health networks that connect women with care.
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