President Michael D Higgins has criticised the fact that in some countries women have no rights to control their own fertility.

He was speaking at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul yesterday during a roundtable discussion entitled Women and girls — catalysing action to achieve gender equality.

“At this moment, rape continues to be persistently used and has increased as a weapon of war; shameful rates of maternal and infant malnutrition persist in many countries; in others, women have no rights or means to control their own fertility,” said Mr Higgins.

At the beginning of his address, he suggested those at the summit had an opportunity to create real change instead of just talking or writing about it.

“We can, by delivering these principles into policy, ensure that the commitments made here today constitute much more than elegant words on a page,” he said.

“We must unequivocally recognise that gender equality is a right and not a gift.”

He said the deep structural problems that underpin gender inequality must be addressed. Issues such as land ownership and control, and access to credit, water, and fuel are all associated with women’s vulnerability to violence in many countries.

Speaking on the issue of protecting women in areas of conflict, Mr Higgins said everyone, from governments to individuals, can do much more. “Only 43% of women in emergencies have access to reproductive health services, despite the fact that 60% of women who die in pregnancy and childbirth are found in crisis zones. This is simply not good enough,” he said.

“We all — governments, their peoples, and representative institutions —must do so much more.”

Mr Higgins’ comments came on the day researchers from Trinity College Dublin’s Centre for Global Health secured €3.3m to study people exposed to trauma. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre is also involved.

Twelve doctoral researchers will study the psychological effects of exposure to trauma such as gender-based violence and fleeing from a conflict zone.

Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, hopes the research will make a difference to people traumatised by violence. She expects the study will discover “rich new learning which will make a positive difference to traumatised victims of sexual violence”.


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