Content warning: includes disturbing details of the suffering of women and children in Gaza.
In early November 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) article, Women and newborns bearing the brunt of the conflict in Gaza, reported that [according to various humanitarian agencies] “women, children, and newborns in Gaza are disproportionately bearing the burden of the escalation of hostilities in the occupied Palestinian territory.” Of course, with the Israeli military’s relentless bombardment passing the 100th-day mark, it, unfortunately, should not surprise the world to continue hearing that children and women are the front-line victims in this genocidal mechanism against the Palestinian people.
So what exactly does this look like?
The short answer: With the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) incessantly targeting hospitals and medical facilities, civilians (especially women and children) are being killed and hurt in unfathomable numbers. To consider the situation in depth, we turn to this CNN account where, via 45 satellite images with approximately 400 ground videos, “at least 20 out of 22 hospitals identified by CNN in northern Gaza were damaged or destroyed in the first two months of Israel’s war against Hamas, from October 7 to December 7.” In addition to the images and ground videos of the CNN report, the information was further substantiated via interviews with doctors, eyewitnesses, and humanitarian organizations.
Knowing that hospitals are a crucial part of the occupied territory’s infrastructure and seeing how they are being systematically demolished, we are left to ask ourselves the painful question: how will civilians be kept safe? In considering this question and as we attempt to grasp the significance of the WHO article, we’re brought to a particular segment of the very high-risk population: pregnant women.
To put the aftermath of the IDF’s relentless bombardments into context, let’s consider a snapshot of what all of the above looks like (source Human Rights Watch).
- 1.9 million people (85% of the Gazan population) are displaced
- Regular telecommunications blackouts [imposed by the Israeli authorities]
- At least 340 schools damaged
- Farmland destroyed (increasing food insecurity and loss of income)
More specifically, when we’re talking about the lives of women and girls, the UN Women offers the following harrowing statistics (updated as of January 19, 2024) –
- 70% of civilian fatalities are women or children
- 951, 490 women and girls have been displaced from their homes
- over 3,000 women have become widows
- more than 10,000 children have lost their fathers
- 2 mothers are killed in Gaza every hour
- 50,000 women are pregnant in Gaza (5,522 with Jan/Feb due dates)
- more than 180 women give birth daily
*Estimates by UN Women based on data from the Gaza Media Office. Pregnancy estimates from the UN Population Fund.
** UN Women does not have a programme presence in Israel.
As we begin to fathom the desperation of our Gazan sisters, we turn to Laila Baker, the UNFPA Arab States Regional Director, who in late November 2023 said in this France 24 interview,
“Many of the women huddled in unhygienic, over-crowded, displaced shelters which are often subject to bombardment. There’s no clean water, we estimate that over 70 percent of the Gazan Palestinian population has no access to clean drinking water. We require unhindered access in a safe environment, that requires 100% ceasefire, not a pause, not a corridor”
Fast forward to January 23, 2024, Dr. Tany Haj-Hassan, a pediatric intensive care doctor with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF – Doctors Without Borders) shared [speaking from Amman, Jordan] during an Al Jazeera interview:
“There is one small hospital in the south that is providing most of the maternal care for a population of over 2 million. I can talk a little bit about the journey of pregnant women in Gaza from the stories from MSF colleagues and other medical professionals in the Gaza Strip. Pregnant women are experiencing the same horrors as all civilians – they are fearing for their own lives and the lives of their children. They’re being bombarded indiscriminately and we’ve had stories of pregnant women who have lost multiple members of their family, including their husband (the father of their unborn child). They’re displaced, often living in a tent with heat, no access to clean water. And a malnourished pregnant mother dehydrated mother is a danger to her and her baby in all trimesters of the pregnancy. A lot of them are being killed during pregnancy. The only solution is a ceasefire and then an immense amount of humanitarian aid to relieve all the suffering that I and so many others continue to describe.”
Dr. Haj-Hassan ends her interview with a call to action: “Please amplify your voices, put pressure, our colleagues in Gaza are exhausted – we cannot afford to be exhausted. The world needs to understand this needs to stop.”
While many of us continue to feel helpless, there are some ways we can heed the pleas of Dr. Haj-Hassan [and of millions around the globe]. Several resources follow.
- UN Women Get Involved: support gender equality and women’s empowerment via campaigns like Unite to End Violence Against Women, HeForShe, and iKNOW Politics. You can also subscribe to their newsletter.
- Women For Women International – their motto, Changing the world, one woman at a time, says it all is one reason why this is an organization I have donated twice to. Among the countries they work in: Afghanistan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Palestine, Rwanda, and South Sudan. They’re coordinating an Emergency Response Fund for the women of Gaza (for items such as, clothing/shoes, blankets, mattresses, hot meals and trauma-informed counseling)
- Anera – Where Hope Finds a Way, is an organization that ‘envisions a Middle East where people live with dignity, purpose, and opportunity.’ Operating in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan. Anera ‘provides humanitarian assistance and sustainable development to advance the well-being of vulnerable communities.’
- MECA For Peace – Middle East Children’s Alliance – protecting the health, lives and rights of children in the Middle East. MECA is a ‘nonprofit humanitarian aid organization based in Berkeley, California that supports children and families in Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon.’
News resources for information:
- The Palestine Chronicle – a 501(c)3 non-profit on a mission to ‘educate the general public by providing a forum that strives to highlight issues of relevance to human rights, national struggles, freedom and democracy in the form of daily news, commentary, features, book reviews, photos, art, and more.’
- Democracy Now – this non-profit news organization brings compassionate independent journalism to viewers (they’ve been reporting almost daily on Palestine)
- Novara Media – an ‘independent media organization (out of England) addressing issues from a crisis of capitalism to racism and climate change.’ They report regularly on the war against the Palestinian people.
Lastly, on social media, a few Instagram accounts to follow both for solidarity and for information updates:
With the extremely precarious state of pregnant Palestinian women in Gaza becoming increasingly dangerous and delicate, I cannot help but wonder, how much longer must they wait for their catastrophic nightmare to end? And when will the Western world (led by the United States) demand a permanent ceasefire from the Israeli government? My hope is that those of us who work towards a kinder humanity will have our voices heard as we continue to fight for the women and children of Gaza, of all of Palestine. We must remember that of course, the figures alone are staggering, but even as we try to wrap our heads around the horrific numbers, these are human beings we’re talking about – they are our sisters. It is our responsibility to them and to the world we leave behind for future generations that we show them not only solidarity but also our shared humanity.