The Journey of Mariam and Many Like Her
Mariam, a 16-year-old from Martakert in Karabakh, was abruptly pulled out of school on September 19 due to bombings in her region, a focal point of territorial disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan. She lost contact with her parents for three days until they arrived at a shelter in the regional capital. It took them another three days to cross into Armenia. Mariam is one of over 100,000 individuals, mainly ethnic Armenians, who have sought refuge in Armenia following the flare-up of hostilities on September 19-20. About a third of these refugees are reportedly minors, and roughly half are women and girls.
The needs of women and girls differ from those of men and boys during emergencies, and these needs often go unaddressed. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence during conflict and displacement. An estimated 60% of avoidable maternal deaths occur in regions affected by political unrest, displacement, and natural disasters. Among the tens of thousands of women and girls who have fled to Armenia, over 2,000 are believed to be pregnant, with nearly 700 births anticipated in the next three months.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is actively addressing these issues by supplying health facilities in three Armenian regions with reproductive health kits. These kits contain enough sexual and reproductive health supplies to meet the needs of a population of 150,000. The agency has also trained 35 local service providers in specialized care for survivors of gender-based violence. Two safe spaces offering psychosocial support, health care, and legal services for women and girls are already operational, with three more in the planning stages.
Mariam, who is wearing a sweatshirt that reads “Believe in yourself and trust because [you’re] special,” is one of 600 million adolescent girls globally who dream of a future where they can learn and grow in a secure and supportive environment. Before fleeing her hometown, Mariam enjoyed attending an educational center in Martakert where she practiced photography, animation, and online game creation. It remains uncertain when she will be able to continue these studies, just as it’s unclear whether many former residents of Karabakh will choose to return. For Mariam’s family, there is no home to go back to; their house was bombed, like many others in her village. Mariam said she didn’t even have the chance to say goodbye.