'More than five million women in our waiting rooms' - as strong as they are vulnerable

MSF launches a campaign in Belgium about women in humanitarian crises.  

    Some Statistics

    • In Africa, 59 per cent of adults living with HIV/AIDS are female (WHOAIDS);
    • Five girls are subjected to female genital mutilation every minute (WHO). These girls run noticeably higher risk of having complicated deliveries and their babies are more likely to die.
    • 529 000 women die every year from complications relating pregnancy or birth (WHO);
    • In 2006 MSF treated 11,000 victims of sexual violence.

    Brussels - "More than five million women in our waiting rooms: As strong as they are vulnerable" is a new public awareness and fundraising campaign launched by MSF today to give voice to the millions of women caught in humanitarian crises.

    To mark the campaign, the beach at Ostende, Belgium, was covered with thousands of bottles containing messages from women. Their moving testimonies demonstrate both their vulnerability in the face of grossly inadequate medical care, and their strength as the backbone of their families.

    Around the world, MSF medical teams witness the exclusion of women from medical care because of poverty, insecurity, culture, or simply because there are no facilities within reach. Even when access to medical care is available, it is often unsuited to the unique needs of women as mothers, as victims of violence, as primary carers and as a group vulnerable to specific diseases.

    "The vast majority of the female patients we see are mothers," explains MSF's Head of Reproductive Health, Christine Lebrun. "As long as women are denied quality obstetric emergency care, they will continue to die needlessly from pregnancy complications or suffer life-long and degrading disability." In both emergency and stable contexts, women are increasingly exposed to multiple forms of violence.

    In armed conflict, they are often targeted and victims of sexual attack. They are also more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/AIDS. Certain cultural practises such as female genital mutilation also expose women to the risk of death, disease, or life-long injury. Yet women remain the vanguard of their family's health.

    They ensure the protection of their children, feed them, educate them and provide them with medical care. They frequently risk their own health and security to protect that of those around them. In doing so they demonstrate their immense strength.

    To address this imbalance, MSF is launching more and more programmes focusing on mother-child and reproductive health and through these are contributing to the reduction of maternal and infant mortality. In many countries MSF is also integrating comprehensive medical and psychological care for victims of sexual violence into their core programmes. "More than Five Million Women in our Waiting Rooms" will last until March 8, 2008, International Women's Day.

    Over the next eight months various events will continue to prick the public conscience and remind them of the every day life of women who come to MSF with medical needs. A special internet site has been created especially for the campaign: More than Five Million Women in our Waiting Rooms