Sexual and reproductive rights in contexts of humanitarian crisis: Venezuelan women at risk

The socioeconomic crisis ravaging Venezuela has led to a state of complex humanitarian emergency, and the healthcare system is getting the worst of it

  • Country: Venezuela
  • Date: 24/09/2019
Sexual and reproductive rights in contexts of humanitarian crisis: Venezuelan women at risk

The crisis has taken a toll on women’s sexual and reproductive health rights. According to the report Mujeres al Límite 2019, this translates to a lack of adequate care and increases in maternal death, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and unsafe abortions associated with unwanted pregnancies.

The information below offers an overview of the issues affecting the sexual and reproductive health rights of Venezuelan women, who make up 50% of the country’s population (Mujeres al Límite 2019).

Lack of contraceptive supplies for women who wish to prevent pregnancy

  • A survey of 151 pharmacies in five Venezuelan cities (Caracas, Barquisimeto, Maracaibo, Mérida, and Porlamar) showed that estimated shortages of contraceptive supplies are between 83.3% and 91.7% (Mujeres al Límite 2019). All forms of contraceptive have become progressively harder to come by since 2014. In 2016, the Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela reported shortages of approximately 90% (Mujeres al Límite 2017).
  • The main form of birth control provided by the state is surgical sterilization, which is covered by the National Surgery Plan in effect in Venezuela since 2014. Sterilization is widespread and provided only for women (Mujeres al Límite 2019). 

Maternal health in crisis: maternal death, teen pregnancy, abortion 

  • Between 2012 and 2016, a steady increase in maternal death in Venezuela was reported. Between 2015 and 2016 alone, deaths rose by 66% (Mujeres al Límite 2019). Since 2016, no official figures have been released on maternal death in the country. Lack of access to this data is in itself a human rights violation.
  • Venezuela has the third-highest rate of teen pregnancy in Latin America, after Ecuador and Honduras (Mujeres al Límite 2019).
  • In a country with limited access to contraceptives and restrictive abortion laws, it is no surprise that unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions take place. A study of four public hospitals in three Venezuelan cities showed that for every four deliveries, medical professionals see at least a woman is there as a result of abortion-related complications (Mujeres al Límite 2019).

Actions to protect the sexual and reproductive rights of Venezuelan women: protective measures granted by the IACHR for Maternidad Concepción Palacios

  • Maternidad Concepción Palacios is one of Venezuela’s best-known public hospitals. Its operational capacity has been reduced by over 50%, with medical personnel assisting with 425 deliveries in the first quarter of 2019, compared with 850 in the same period of 2018.
  • This loss of operational capacity is due to serious infrastructure breakdowns; lack of medical supplies, medications, and cleaning and disinfecting products; inconsistent water and electricity supply; lack of medical professionals, particularly anesthesiologists; and other factors. 
  • The state of care available at Maternidad Concepción Palacios reflects the reality pregnant women face throughout the country, particularly low-income women. Those who are “lucky” enough to be seen experience new risks at the hospital. Women who cannot be seen due to hospitals’ reduced capacity are transferred from one hospital to another, and many die awaiting care. 
  • The healthcare crisis and lack of maternal healthcare services has become so dire that it has been identified as one of the main factors forcing Venezuelan women to flee the country. (Amnesty International 2018) 
  • In March 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted protective measures for Maternidad Concepción Palacios. The IACHR found that the deficient healthcare services, shabby hospital facilities, and lack or limited access to resources led to a serious emergency constituting violence and discrimination against women.
  • The protective measures granted by the IACHR are an important first step in addressing the structural problems affecting women’s sexual and reproductive health rights in Venezuela and in keeping violations of women and girls’ human rights from being swept under the rug, as occurs far too often in humanitarian crises. 

References 

Equivalencias en Acción* (2019), Mujeres al Límite: derechos de las mujeres de cara al agravamiento de la emergencia humanitaria compleja en Venezuela [online] available at https://avesawordpress.wordpress.com/publicaciones/mujeres-al-limite-2/mujeres-al-limite-2019-version-en-ingles/

Equivalencias en Acción (2017), Mujeres al Límite: el peso de la emergencia humanitaria: vulneración de los derechos humanos de las mujeres en Venezuela [online] available [in Spanish] at https://avesawordpress.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/mujeres-al-limite.pdf.

Amnesty International (2018), Exodus of Pregnant Women [online] available at http://amnistiaonline.org/SalidadeEmergencia/Default/Exodo/

*Equivalencias en Acción is a coalition made up of the organizations AVESA, FREYA, Asociación Civil Mujeres en Línea, and CEPAZ.

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Women’s Link Worldwide is an international organization which uses the power of the law to promote a social change which promotes the rights of women and girls, especially those facing multiple forms of discrimination.

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