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Better humanitarian responses to SRHR in crises: mapping the architecture for change

Meeting/conference reports

Written by Megan Daigle

In complex and protracted humanitarian crisis settings, unmet needs for SRHR are stark. Despite progress in the last 30 years, seemingly intractable problems persist in humanitarian coordination, growing cost barriers, and discriminatory attitudes on the part of healthcare providers and even humanitarians themselves. These gaps and barriers are detrimental to health, protection, wider wellbeing and future engagement with healthcare.

Following our launch of new research on barriers to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in crises, the Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG) convened two roundtables of thematic experts, practitioners, policy specialists and decision-makers for a solutions-focused discussion of shared obstacles, challenges and strategies in a trusted space. Together, participants mapped the current landscape for SRHR in crises and the architecture for change, identifying blockages, champions and enablers within the humanitarian system. In a moment of both optimism and struggle, the need for comprehensive services that prioritise the most vulnerable is clear. This note brings together key themes and findings from these roundtables.

Amidst growing anti-gender backlash worldwide, including against key SRHR components like abortion and bodily autonomy, a comprehensive agenda is more critical than ever. Humanitarian actors are not immune to this politicisation of SRHR: increasingly working from a limited, ‘needs-focused’ approach to SRHR, they often set aside or even dismiss rights as the purview of other actors. This narrowing is driven by both shrinking funding pots as well as dwindling humanitarian space, which has motivated agencies to refocus on immediate needs and de-emphasise the humanitarian–development–peace nexus, but it comes with ramifications for SRHR in crises, and thus for the health, wellbeing and agency of crisis-affected people. The context for humanitarian response is also changing, amidst rising needs, changing donor priorities and a shifting political landscape.

Participants in both events pointed to initiatives and networks that are translating into momentum for comprehensive SRHR in crises, and that urgently need support. They also made cogent calls for political commitment and financial investment in coordinated health and protection approaches, preparedness, and re-framing itself SRHR as lifesaving.