Women have experienced the war on Gaza in deadly and brutal ways

  • Date: 08/03/2024
  • Author: Karol Balfe

The war on Gaza has been brutal and deadly. In just five months, an entire people has experienced unbelievable trauma and unprecedented levels of death.  But the suffering endured by women in particular in this awful and illegal war has been immense.

The statistics are horrific. Two mothers are killed every hour, 8,400 women are dead and 6,300 women have been injured in the most traumatic ways imaginable. 900,000 displaced women face starvation, and watching their children ache and die from hunger.

Daily life for women in Gaza is hellish.

This weekend if you are one of the 600,000 menstruating women in Gaza who is having a period, you won’t have access to sanitary towels or hygiene products. You will probably resort to cutting a strip from the tent you are sheltering in to help cope with the flow. Or find an old cloth or rag. This will likely give you a deadly infection.

There is no dignity in menstruating in Gaza.

And if you are one of the 180 women who give birth every day in Gaza, your new son or daughter is likely to be born on the floor of a filthy, freezing temporary shelter without medical support or care. If you are experiencing complications and are lucky enough to get to one of the last remaining functioning hospitals, there won’t be pain relief or medical supplies, even if you need a caesarean section.

Once your baby is born there will be no nappies, baby clothes to swaddle him or her in, or enough breast milk for feeding because you are malnourished.

If you are already a mother with children in Gaza, it is likely that this weekend you will be listening to their constant heartbreaking cries of hunger as starvation takes a grip in the region due to the complete destruction of food production, and the lack of food aid reaching the traumatised population. Devastatingly, the hunger crisis and looming famine has led to an increase in death among children and in cases of stillborn babies.

International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day

Over the coming days millions of women all over the world will celebrate two annual milestones, International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day. There will be lots of noise about how far women have advanced, and acknowledgement of the vital role they play in all aspects of modern life. Mothers will be rightly fussed over and spoiled, and honoured for the important job they do.

But for thousands of traumatised women and mothers in Gaza, these two days of celebration will have no meaning whatsoever as they continue to live through the daily horrors they have suffered for the last five months.

The staggering toll of violence cannot be ignored.  This violence is a stark reminder of the global failure to protect women and children in every country.

Far from flowers and lunches and warm fuzzy gatherings women in Gaza will this weekend be in a state of fear and anxiety, using whatever little human reserve they have left to simply survive.

Women and children who are hit hardest

In conflict, it is women and children who are hit hardest and who are more likely to lose their lives. 70% of the 30,000 killed so far are women and children, their homes reduced to rubble and their families torn apart. This is further exacerbated by lack of water, sanitation, health services, power and fuel supplies.

The decimation of food production and agriculture coupled with the fact hardly any food aid is getting into Gaza means the risk of death from starvation is growing by the day. Gaza is on the brink of famine. Women and their children are so hungry and desperate they are resorting to foraging for wild grasses and weeds for food.

The lack of food is already impacting on women’s health. A rise in anaemia among pregnant women has been reported at a Project HOPE clinic, where 21 percent of 416 pregnant women who visited the clinic between February 5th and 24th showed signs of malnutrition. Unless food aid distribution resumes as a matter of urgency there will be deadly and lethal consequences.

As well as the physical toll there is also a huge psychological toll on women. A psychologist working in a school shelter has shared with ActionAid staff that women and children are showing various symptoms of severe stress. They are suffering from depression, sadness, and feelings of loss. In addition, children are hyperactive, bedwetting, nail-biting and having nightmares. 

The world has failed the women of Gaza spectacularly

It is high time now that the international community and global powers – and those who proclaim to support human rights – acknowledge the abject failure to protect the most vulnerable, and to take immediate action to halt the bombardment and safeguard the lives of women and girls in Gaza.

Women have suffered in Israel too. The reports of alleged sexual violence since October 7th in both Gaza and Israel are deeply concerning. Every report of sexual violence against women demands thorough investigation. It’s not just a crime; it’s a gross violation of human rights, a war crime, and a crime against humanity under international law.

The best tribute we can make to women in Gaza and Israel this International Women’s Day is if we collectively channel our voices and influence to make a massive push to end this tragic war, and offering women  some hope of an end to the waking hell they are in.

This is the moment when world leaders need to do so much more than they have to date.

The urgency is now.  The call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire cannot wait any longer. 

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