Yemen, Feminism & Power with Lina Abirafeh

“The challenge with Yemen is this: it is a forgotten emergency.”

Lina Abirafeh is the Executive Director of the Arab Institute for Women. She is an expert in gender issues in emergencies, with 20 years experience working in conflict, post-conflict and natural disaster settings around the world. She’s also an author, researcher, and influential voice in the global gender policy sphere. You can hear more about Lina’s work in her Ted Talk.

At the Women Deliver 2019 Conference, Girls’ Globe’s Ashley Lackovich-Van Gorp had the opportunity to sit down with Lina. She shares her expertise on the situation facing women and girls in Yemen today, explaining that they remain disproportionately vulnerable, despite all of the rhetoric around preventing violence and protecting women.

“We literally don’t put our money where our mouth is, and I think Yemen has been the most stark example of that.”


Ashley asks Lina to explain how senior leaders like herself can ‘pass the power’ to the next generation of activists. Her answer? They already have it.

“I see that power already, what I do is hold up the mirror and show them the power they have. I think they don’t know what they’re capable of, they don’t see it.”

Lina’s voice is strong, clear and inspirational. Her final words are an important reminder to all those who feel passionately human rights and gender equality:

“Everyone has a voice, but not everyone has that microphone.”

Sex Doesn’t Stop During Emergencies

So where’s the sexual and reproductive health in emergency response?

Millions of people around the world have been displaced from their homes this year. They are running from natural disasters – hurricanes, mudslides, floods, wildfires, drought – and some that are at least partially man-made – violence, famine, epidemics. As these crises continue to increase in frequency and severity, we must be prepared.

When an emergency occurs, aid agencies spring into action, providing clean water, food, and temporary shelter to those who are affected. Some may also provide urgent medical care, treating physical injuries caused by the disaster. These efforts are obviously critical, and must continue – but they are not enough.

After an earthquake levelled villages and caused an avalanche on Mount Everest in Nepal, killing nearly 9,000 people and injuring more than 20,000, CARE was one of the agencies to respond. Our team found that most of the health clinics in the area had been destroyed, and pregnant women had no choice but to give birth out in the open without sanitary equipment, qualified birth attendants, or private facilities. This was dangerous and distressing to everyone involved, and it could have been prevented.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has shared many stories illustrating the horrific circumstances currently facing women and girls – especially pregnant ones – in emergency settings, from Nepal to Nigeria to the Democratic Republic of Congo. We know that over two-thirds of preventable maternal deaths happen in fragile and conflict-affected countries. We also know that sex happens every day, everywhere, and that incidents of gender-based violence tend to increase after disasters and during armed conflict.

We know that family planning saves lives, and if everyone who wanted to use contraception could do so, an estimated 104,000 maternal deaths could be averted each year. So, if we know all of this, why isn’t more being done to prioritize sexual and reproductive health during emergencies?  

Fortunately, the tide is turning. The Inter-Agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises (IAWG) has been working to expand access to quality sexual and reproductive health services for people affected by conflict and natural disaster. CARE and other members of IAWG helped to develop the Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) – a set of priority activities for first-responders to help protect women and girls at the onset of a humanitarian emergency – including basic sexual and reproductive health services, comprehensive family planning, gender-based violence response, and HIV/AIDS treatment.

At this year’s Family Planning 2020 Summit in London, governments of the UK, Canada, Netherlands, Denmark, and Australia committed to put resources toward improving sexual and reproductive health services in crisis settings. These are exciting developments, and we know they will make a big difference in the lives of women and girls living in these difficult circumstances.

At CARE, we have seen the need firsthand. Through our Supporting Access to Family Planning and Post Abortion Care (SAFPAC) program, we have helped more than a quarter of a million women in crisis-affected countries to prevent unwanted pregnancies and deaths from unsafe abortion. We provide assistance, training, and medical supplies to health facilities and partner with governments to ensure implementation of MISP activities in established communities and camp settings. We also help to create opportunities where community members (including adolescents and young people) and health providers can discuss challenges and generate mutually-acceptable solutions.

The impact of these efforts is meaningful – contraceptive use in SAFPAC regions of Chad (Moyen Chari and Logone Oriental) has risen to over twice the rates of the rest of the country (11% vs. 5%). In Djibouti, the government was so impressed by the increase in family planning use in two SAFPAC-served refugee camps that they adopted the approach in health facilities around the country.

The need is vast, but fortunately feasible solutions have already been developed. Sex does not stop in emergencies, and neither does pregnancy. Women and girls must have access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning, wherever they are. When these services aren’t available during a humanitarian emergency, vulnerable people face increased risks with fewer lifelines, too often with deadly consequences.

For more on this issue, visit the UNFPA website. For more on CARE’s SAFPAC program, visit care.org.

Droughts, Deserts: Women’s & Children’s Health in India

Over the last 15 years India has been struck with numerous natural disasters that have killed thousands and leaving many more men, women, and children in despair. The country is at high risk for natural disasters and is exposed to floods, droughts, cyclones, earthquakes, and landslides. From urban cities to rural villages, communities are ripped apart and families struggle to survive in the aftermath. Even more so are women and girls at an even higher risk of displacement and exploitation than their male counterparts. As NGO staff, social workers, health practitioners, and policy makers our understanding of the implications between gender and natural disasters is critical to effective disaster management that reduce the vulnerability of women and girls.

A recent storm which lasted 5 days bringing cold air to the desert. Photo Credit: EEI
A recent storm which lasted 5 days bringing cold air to the desert.
Photo Credit: EEI

Rajasthan is one of the most drought-affected states in the country. In 2002, the entire state experienced a severe drought which caused a shortage in food, water, employment, and farming. Because of the drought crops are destroyed, cattle die, and a family’s source of income is depleted. Families are unable to provide a steady diet for their children and so they are at risk of being malnourished. A study conducted by the Desert Medicine Research Center in Jodhpur revealed that growth stunting, a cause of malnutrition, was significantly higher for girls ages 0-5 than for boys. Due to heavily instilled gender roles and expectations in India women and girls often have less access to food and water during times of natural disaster and occurrences. This unequal distribution can further implicate the health risks that women and girls face.

Maternal health is yet another aspect as to the depths of widespread neglect that women face in rural areas of Rajasthan. High pregnancy rates, high miscarriage rates, premature infant death, high risk of mortality and morbidity during labor. This is mainly in part to the lack of adequate health services, lack of control over fertility, sexual reproduction education, inadequate nutrition, and inadequate sanitation. Women are not always allowed to leave the home at any given time and must have permission by their husband. This can significantly impact the health of a woman and her child during pregnancy if she is unable to seek medical attention. The number of doctors in rural areas of India is also extremely low compared to that of the urban areas which results in poor medical facilities and infrastructure. This can all be extremely difficult for a mother during times of natural disaster such as a drought since a she may not be able to access medical attention due to lack of doctors, facilities, and equipment.

How You Can Help

As a global community who are fighting for women and girls equality, access to resources and knowledge, and inclusion in decision-making, we need to continue focusing on how women play positive roles in their community, society, and family. Education for Equality International has been working in the desert regions of Rajasthan and we understand that education for women and girls as it relates to their health and sexual reproduction is a great concern. In India, and like anywhere else in the world, women and girls have the ability to voice their needs in order to make decisions and lead a healthy life. Stay informed of these issues and educate others!

To follow the work that we do at EEI please www.facebook.com/eduequal or visit our site at www.eduequal.org. We’re also on Twitter and Instagram @eduqualorg

Education: Girls’ Beacon of Hope

Delta Students Read EE's Folktale Books  Photo Credit: Helping The Burmese Delta
Delta Students Read EE’s Folktale Books
Photo Credit: Helping The Burmese Delta

Written by Melody Mociulski, Chair and Founder of Educational Empowerment

Girls around the world today are struggling to achieve their basic human rights – protection from forced labor, early marriage, conflict, and sex slavery; access to education; prevention of needless death from pregnancy and childbirth; freedom to determine for themselves their life path.

In the face of these ongoing and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, natural disasters add yet one more barrier for them to overcome.

On Friday May 2nd, 2008, Cyclone Nargis, the 8th worst cyclone ever recorded, hit the Ayeyarwady Delta in Myanmar.  Approximately 150,000 people were killed, and 20,000 girls and boys were orphaned.

Villagers were starting their day as usual when all of a sudden the wind whipped up the river and the water began to rise.  Trees and houses crashed down and floated away.  Families were separated.  Darkness came.  Although crying of children and animals could be heard, no one could see anything.  The water kept creeping up.  In the morning, all was mud and destruction. Children tried to find their families and make sense of this nightmare.

Nargis destroyed 60% of the schools in the Delta.  And those left standing had no usable sanitation facilities, furniture, or classroom materials. Rebuilding schools and restoring the formal education system in the aftermath of a disaster are crucial to help girls in disaster-stricken communities regain a sense of normalcy and security, and obtain the psychosocial support needed to overcome such a traumatic experience.

Since 2008 post-cyclone reconstruction has been slow, hampered by near impossible logistical access and lack of electricity and fresh water.  Parents in the Delta understand the importance of education, and they readily relocate to a village that has a school.  The most effective way to address society’s costs for future hazards is to invest in expanding the knowledge of girls and boys. Without an education, girls in the Delta are doomed to a continued life of extreme poverty.

In partnership with a local non-profit organization, Educational Empowerment is building a primary school in the Delta to empower Burmese girls through education. During a trip to Myanmar in January, I will attend the school’s dedication celebration.  I am excited to hear stories first hand from girls who survived the cyclone and now have a chance to learn to read and receive an education – their beacon of hope for the future.

Educational Empowerment fulfills that hope for Burmese girls by providing access to schools and books, incentives to stay in school, and support for teachers.

Let’s join together to ensure all girls and boys have hope for education and for a better life.

To take immediate action:

  • Join Girls’ Globe in the conversation on Twitter @GirlsGlobe
  • Become a champion for girls’ and women’s rights.
  • Donate to Educational Empowerment at.
  • Let your voices be heard for girls worldwide!

Educational Empowerment was created by women and for women and girls. EE promotes literacy and education for children, families and communities severely affected by poverty and injustice in Myanmar. By empowering women and girls through education, we position women in Myanmar to attain their equal rights.

Please visit us at www.educationalempowerment.org & follow us on Facebook, Twitter @EEmpower, and Instagram.