Adolescent Girls in Disaster & Conflict — Interventions for Improving Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Services
Safe spaces, mobile medical teams and youth engagement are effective ways to reach displaced, uprooted, crisis-affected girls at a critical time in their young lives. Adolescent Girls in Disaster & Conflict: Interventions for Improving Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Services is a collection of UNFPA- supported humanitarian interventions for reaching adolescents when crisis heightens vulnerability to gender-based violence, unwanted pregnancy, HIV infection, early and forced marriage and other risks.
Adolescent girls are overlooked in turbulent times of disaster and conflict. Traumatized, constrained by tradition, torn from school and family structures and familiar social networks they can be lost in the crowd in a refugee camp or disrupted community. We must look harder to see the realities of girls aged 10 to 19, include them in humanitarian programming, and plan interventions that restore health and hope at a critical time between childhood and adulthood.
Millions of adolescent girls are in need of humanitarian assistance – displaced by conflict or uprooted by disaster. A crisis heightens their vulnerability to gender-based violence, unwanted pregnancy, HIV infection, maternal death and disability, early and forced marriage, rape, trafficking, and sexual exploitation and abuse. To meet their needs and respect their rights, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, provides operational, programmatic and technical support for adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH) as part of its humanitarian programming.
Three areas of intervention in particular are making an impact on adolescent girls in crisis-affected settings:
• Safe spaces provide adolescent girls with livelihood
skills, psychosocial counselling for gender-based violence, access to sexual and reproductive health information and referral to services;
• Mobile clinics and mobile outreach teams bring life-saving services and supplies, including contraceptives, to adolescent girls in hard-to-reach locations when health systems are damaged or destroyed and not functional;
• Engagement and participation of adolescents and youth, especially female, is a strategy that empowers and respects girls as part of humanitarian response – as first responders, agents of change and volunteers – consulted and engaged in planning, distributing dignity kits, collecting data and communicating with peers within their communities.
Effective interventions for adolescent girls tend to share certain characteristics, starting with planning and programming before or early in a crisis. Such interventions are flexible, culturally sensitive, innovative, multisectoral and integrated. An integrated approach addresses not only HIV, for example, but also maternal health, family planning and gender-based violence as well as certain sexuality issues, and these comprehensive services should ideally be provided in an adolescent- friendly manner by qualified health professionals at a single site. They offer protection, life skills, literacy, numeracy, vocational training and livelihood skills – elements valued by girls and that serve as entry
points for adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH).1 They also provide the essential supplies to support ASRH services.
In this initial collection of effective interventions, we feature seven countries, with more examples in development.