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Delivering on the front lines: Maternal health in conflict, post-conflict and emergency situations

UNICEF/UN Radio podcast

© UNICEF/2008/Yeo
At the UN Radio studio in New York (from left), Susan Purdin, Sarah Chynoweth and moderator Amy Costello discuss maternal health in emergencies.

NEW YORK, USA, 29 October 2008 – Providing for the needs of pregnant women and mothers in conflict, post-conflict and emergency situations can be a major challenge. During armed conflict, the well-being of women is threatened by physical, sexual and psychological abuse, and vital maternal care services are typically disrupted by the devastation of health infrastructure.

A new podcast discussion, hosted by UNICEF to advance the conversation on maternal health, features three panellists:

Sarah Chynoweth of the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children; Etelle Higonnet, who currently works with the Iraq History Project and produced ‘Weapon’, a film about sexual violence in Côte d’Ivoire; and Susan Purdin of the International Rescue Committee.

The panellists discuss the challenges of providing care and support to pregnant women and mothers in conflict, post-conflict and emergency situations, as well as what may be done to address these challenges.

Click here to listen to the podcast discussion.

Women’s access to information
This is the first of two podcasts produced by UNICEF on maternal and neonatal health. The discussions have been recorded at the UN Radio studios in New York and distributed online and through UNICEF Radio podcasts.

The series is hosted by Amy Costello, a former correspondent for Public Radio International. Ms. Costello is also the moderator for UNICEF’s ‘Beyond School Books’ podcast series on education in emergencies.

During the discussion, Ms. Chynoweth cites the importance of access to information about reproductive health and family planning in conflict-affected countries, speaking from her experience working with the Women’s Commission on Refugee Women and Children.

“As [a country] transitions from a conflict to a post-conflict phase, there is an emphasis on women’s participation in that reconstruction phase,” she says. “Family planning can be a big factor in women’s participation.” She also notes the lapses in prioritizing and funding reproductive health during emergencies and conflict situations.

Ending impunity for gender-based violence

Ms. Higonnet brings to life an example of the atrocities committed against women with the testimony of a young pregnant woman who was subjected to violence in the western Côte d’Ivoire city of Danané in September 2002.

Describing the climate of impunity that allows for sexual violence to flourish in conflict situations – and referring to the lack of protection of women – Ms. Purdin comments: “When I go to a war zone, I don’t see the rules [of war] being implemented.”

All three panellists emphasize the need for legal action against perpetrators of gender-based violence. During armed conflict, they note, women may be systematically raped as a ‘strategy’ of war, as well as ‘opportunistically’ when the legal system breaks down and perpetrators are unlikely to be tried.

Reproductive health in emergencies

The podcast discussion underlines the fact that reproductive health services are not second- or third-tier services but, instead, life-saving, priority interventions that need to be implemented at the onset of a crisis.

“We cannot ignore reproductive health until things quote-unquote ‘settle down,’“ Ms. Chynoweth says, adding that there is a need for immediate action to deliver essential services to pregnant women and mothers on the front lines.





October 2008:
Sarah Chynoweth, Etelle Higonnet, Susan Purdin and moderator Amy Costello discuss maternal health in conflict, post-conflict and emergency situations.
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