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International Women's Day - March 8

Why refugee women want contraception

Women fleeing war or disaster should be able to choose whether, when, and how many children to have.

Photo: Meredith Hutchison/IRC

Women and girls make up half of all refugees and people displaced by crisis worldwide, and an estimated 225 million women living in developing countries are in need of contraception. 

Contraception is a cost-effective and efficient way to prevent deaths from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications, as well as health problems related to unintended pregnancies. In fact, if all women in need were given access to contraception, unsafe abortions—one of the leading causes of maternal death—would decline by 74 percent.

Daw Aye Than, a member of an IRC-organised “mother support group” shows various contraceptives to women who are her neighbours in the village of Yae Kyaw, in Myanmar.

Photo: Peter Biro/IRC

Contraception also saves money. For every dollar spent on family planning, $1.47 is saved on pregnancy-related care.

Most important, women fleeing crisis or disaster should be able to choose whether, when, and how many children to have. For example, many women do not want to become pregnant while they are living in a war zone or a refugee camp. Others simply want to space the births of their children. Despite all this, humanitarian aid organisations rarely make providing reproductive and sexual healthcare services a priority. 

Since 2011, the International Rescue Committee has provided contraception to thousands of women in 21 countries, including many caught in conflict. There is no place that we know of —regardless of cultural or religious preferences, or humanitarian situation—where contraception isn’t possible, effective or desired.

Five women who have been uprooted by crisis explain why contraception is so important to them:

I have a lot of children, so I use oral contraceptive pills. I don’t have any problem using birth control with hormones. Now I feel happy, since I have time to wait.

-Naw Cho Cho Mhwe, 32, Myanmar 

I have three children. I have been using an IUD for the last six years. By using family planning, I have been able to complete Grade 10 [in school] and build my own house. Now my children are getting care and growing well, and all my family is happy.

 - Silma Tegegn, 34, Ethiopia

 

Family planning means spacing births between one child and another. It’s important because it gives mothers a chance for a mental and physical rest, and also affects the family's financial and social stability and improves the family’s situation.

- Mountaha Al Masry, Jordan

The IRC gives women staying in Nzulu, a camp for people displaced by violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, reproductive health kits that include supplies to help pregnant women deliver their babies safely when they are far from a hospital.

Photo: IRC

 

My husband was never in favour of family planning, even though I have six children, and they were enough for me. But seeing my poor health, he supported me to start family planning. From the day I received my IUD, my life is back to normal, as it used to be. I am happy now, giving all my attention to the [children] I have.

 - Sadaqat, 37, Pakistan 

Couples should be able to give birth to the number of children they desire and at the right time. Family planning has brought great and positive change in the health of me and my children. It has brought harmony in my house, and between me and my husband, since 2012, the year I got my IUD.

- M’bisimuya, 40, Democratic Republic of Congo