In times of war and conflict, women and girls often pay a heavy cost. It’s not just the ever-present threat of violence striking their communities, losing their homes, or struggling to find basic needs like food and water. The awful truth is that when war breaks out, women are often the targets of sexual and gender-based violence. 

Since 2020, the Northern regions of Ethiopia have been engulfed in conflict. The civil war in Tigray and the surrounding regions has claimed the lives of more than one million people through a combination of violent confrontation and starvation. Over five million people have been forced to flee their homes. Women, girls, and children have endured the most suffering and the heaviest cost throughout the war. 

It is not uncommon for military personnel to carry out systematic sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) against women and children. People who have been displaced are particularly at risk. Nearly 30% of young women in Tigray have experienced sexual and gender-based violence. 

In times of conflict, women and girls often face sexual and gender-based violence.

Meaza’s story 

Meaza is a 19-year-old student enrolled in Applied Biology course at Mekele University. When war broke out, she was prevented from finishing her education, and decided to stay with relatives in the small town of Zalanbesa. 

During her journey to Zalanbesa, she was approached by two armed men, who demanded sex. She tried to continue on her way, but the men hit her, raped her and left her to find her way to a camp for internally displaced persons, injured and terrified.  

Meaza was uncertain about what to do. She didn’t know if she would become pregnant, or whether she would be exposed to HIV/AIDs or other sexually transmitted diseases. She understood very little about contraceptive methods and had never used one before.  

In her own words, Meaza said, “I’ll relive this experience for the rest of my life. I have no idea how I’ll return to my regular life. I doubt I will.” 

How MSI Ethiopia is helping 

Meaza is currently living at one of the several IDP camps designated specifically for women and young girls who have experienced sexual abuse. Along with hundreds of other women, the girls are receiving assistance from MSI Ethiopia and other humanitarian partners, accessing reproductive health care and psychological therapy. 

MSI Ethiopia provides contraception, family planning, safe abortions, and other associated services in addition to mental health for women and girls impacted by the war.

MSI Ethiopia has deployed seven mobile outreach teams that are especially intended for work at IDPs and the impacted communities.   

The hours are long and the work is sobering, but the United Nations estimates that there 6.4 million people across Ethiopia in need of care for sexual and gender-based violence. MSI will keep working to ensure women who have faced devastating sexual violence have the care that can start them on the road to rebuilding their lives.