Margaret Pollack serves as Senior Advisor on Population Issues in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
Today, on the first International Day of the Girl Child, it’s important to remember some of the most vulnerable girls in the world — those living in post-conflict or other humanitarian settings. The special vulnerabilities of young women and girls — to early marriage, unplanned pregnancies, gender-based violence and abuse — can all be exacerbated when the normal protections of organized societies break down during times of conflict or crisis. Humanitarians have a special responsibility to meet the needs of these girls, and the United States is working with our international and non-governmental organization partners to ensure those most in need of protection are not forgotten.
Our humanitarian assistance — including the provision of health, shelter, nutrition, and water and sanitation programs — supports the community, the family, and through this the whole child. To supplement this broad assistance, we support targeted activities, including the promotion of birth registration, education programs, programs to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, including eliminating harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), and the provision of sexual and reproductive health services. In addition to this work on the ground, we are constantly striving to do better and be smarter in reaching out to and assisting the girls and young women living in refugee camps. Last year we helped fund the development and roll-out of special guidelines on caring for child survivors of sexual assault in humanitarian settings.
Birth registration programs help ensure that every child is counted — regardless of sex. Education programs provide protection and serve as an investment in future peace and stability. Providing access to education for refugee girls can be particularly challenging. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), only five girls were enrolled in school in 2011 for every ten boys in the East and Horn of Africa. Keeping adolescent girls in school is especially important as it is linked to lower rates of early marriage. Yet, adolescent girls often encounter unique challenges pursuing an education, including the simple lack of sanitary materials or the ability to purchase school supplies. In Kenya, we support primary education and vocational training programs for girls and other underserved populations in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps to help improve access to education for all children.
Girls who are married early or who become mothers while they are still very young themselves need particular support in order to continue their education. One program that’s trying to address this in Afghanistan provides daycare to young mothers who participate in trainings on literacy, healthcare awareness and safe health practices, and women(tm)s rights within Islam and the Afghan Constitution — thereby improving their health and the health of their children and families.
In addition, we also work to support implementation of the Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) for Reproductive Health, a set of priority life-saving activities to be implemented by humanitarian organizations such as UNHCR, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and non-governmental organization partners during the initial response to every humanitarian crisis. The MISP also serves as the basis for building comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services throughout protracted crises and through the recovery phase, including preventing sexual violence and providing assistance to survivors.
The Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) supports a significant number of gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and response programs globally. In Fiscal Year 2011 PRM provided an estimated $19.9 million to prevent and respond to GBV globally. Most PRM programs address not just sexual assault, but also harmful traditional practices, including early and forced marriage and FGM. The U.S. government has also provided over $160 million to UNFPA since 2009 to support reproductive health programs worldwide. UNFPA takes the lead among international organizations in addressing GBV and providing reproductive health care and services in many humanitarian settings, including reproductive health kits that contain essential supplies and equipment to partner organizations providing services in crisis settings.
Through funding to international and non-governmental organization partners, PRM programming aims to help refugee and conflict affected children — especially female children who face unique challenges — thrive.