Kyrgyz Women Need More Than Food and Water

The conflict in Kyrgyzstan is spiraling out of control. Ethnic Uzbeks are fleeing their homes in Kyrgyzstan for safety while their houses are being burned. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, announced, “It seems indiscriminate killing, including of children, and rapes have been taking place on the basis of ethnicity.”[1] Estimates of the death count vary widely, from 125, as estimated by Kyrgyz officials, to 700, as estimated by the International Red Cross. Death rates will only rise, especially since more than 3,000 people are in need of health services, including reproductive health. Thousands of refugees are clustered in refugee camps along the border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, where their sudden arrival makes it challenging to provide necessary services.[2]

Violence, rooted in ethnic identities and political motivations, is devastating for a country that has since been rebuilding from conflict in the early 1990s. As in most conflicts around the world, this devastation is often felt by women who, while displaced, lack access to lifesaving reproductive health services. Further violence means that a country, which is already experiencing a dramatic increase in maternal mortality increase (25% increase in maternal deaths since 2008 with a majority occurring along the Uzbekistan border[3]), will face deterioration in quality reproductive health services. Hospitals will be destroyed leaving women with no services to deliver a baby, provide contraception, or offer other lifesaving services.

“We’ve been here for four days,” said Khalimova Aidarova, a refugee, who wore a dark head scarf and traditional robes. “There are so many wounded. Women are giving birth, and the babies are dying immediately.”

-New York Times 6/14/10

In conflict, women face the greatest burdens. They, like all women, will continue having sex, but without access to contraceptives they will likely become pregnant. Since access to skilled birth attendants or emergency obstetric services are difficult to find, many of these pregnancies will risk the lives of Kyrgyz women. As we’ve seen in other civil conflict, women and children are being raped as a weapon of war and are likely being forced to provide sex in exchange for basic supplies like food and water.

Officials say this eruption of violence in Kyrgyzstan could escalate into full blown war. While the future is bleak, supporting the women in this conflict by providing the services they need can bring hope. The Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) for Reproductive Health can save lives and build a foundation for comprehensive reproductive health.  For more information on what can be done for women in crisis, visit the Astarte website (, or read about the work of the Reproductive Health Response in Crisis (RHRC) Consortium (

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