Impact of war on women and girls in Gaza alarming as global bodies call for ceasefire

Women Deliver CEO, Maliha Khan (left). [Women Deliver]

More than 493,000 girls and women have been displaced from their homes in Gaza, as the war between Israel and Hamas escalates.

The United Nations Women, in a report last Friday, says the number could grow, if a ceasefire is not achieved soon, and their needs unmet.

The report further puts the number of women who have been widowed at 900, following the deaths of their male partners since the onset of the conflict.  

“The significant, largely displaced population of women and girls, and new female-headed households, have unique and urgent needs and vulnerabilities that must be recognised and addressed,” the women’s rights body said.

Women Health Risks

So dire is the situation that the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that thousands of pregnant women are at risk of health and maternal care complications.

According to Women Deliver, a global body that advocates for gender equality and the health and rights of women, more than 37,000 pregnant women will be forced to give birth with no electricity or medical supplies in the coming months, risking their lives and health.

“It has become clear that the violence in Gaza is, in addition to a humanitarian crisis, an acute reproductive justice, rights, and health issue about which we cannot be silent. The violence and impact on women and girls in Gaza also make this a reproductive justice and health crisis,” Women Deliver said in a statement on Tuesday, October 24.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen to these women and their newborn babies. Our center is unusable and our options to provide referrals to hospitals are decreasing by the hour. I can’t stress enough how dire the situation is and how desperately we need humanitarian aid to be allowed into Gaza,” Ammal Awadallah, the Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association (PFPPA) Executive Director is quoted as saying.

A woman reacts while holding a pillow as she stands amidst debris outside the site of the Ahli Arab Hospital in central Gaza on Oct. 18, 2023, in the aftermath of an overnight strike. [Via VOA]

Humanitarian Aid

Although humanitarian aid is getting to Gaza, it isn’t enough.

UNFPA notes the need for women and girls to urgently access safe shelters, clean water, and food.

“With more than half of Gaza’s population displaced, the risk of gender-based violence has also increased exponentially for women and girls who are on the move, seeking refuge in overcrowded shelters, which lack privacy and sanitation facilities,” it said.

Global institutions have since appealed for humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, including the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO), and several human rights bodies.

“Lifesaving inputs, such as water, sanitation, food, fuel, and health care, are critical for the survival and well-being of these households. These must be matched with support for women and girls to access safe shelter, protection support, and maternal health care.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, on Wednesday, October 25 reiterated calls for a ceasefire saying; “Thankfully, some humanitarian relief is finally getting into Gaza. But it is a drop of aid in an ocean of need. The people of Gaza need continuous aid delivery at a level that corresponds to their enormous needs. It must be delivered without restrictions.”

His sentiments were echoed by Women Deliver Chief Executive Maliha Khan who noted the need to start peaceful negotiations to ensure justice for Palestinians.

“We unequivocally condemn what the United Nations has called crimes against humanity in Gaza, and the risk of genocide against the Palestinian people,” said Khan.

More than 5,000 people have been killed in Gaza since a cross-border violent attack on October 7.