Time to end the suffering of Palestinian women and girls

Luay Shabaneh
Thursday 5 May 2022

Ghada Sabateen - a widow and mother of six children in her forties - was shot dead by Isreali soldiers at the eastern entrance of Husan village in Bethlehem governorate.

 

The Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Tor Wennesland stated that Ms. Sabateen "did not pose any threat to the soldiers who killed her, calling for a 'comprehensive investigation into such acts."

In the village of Faqqua, Jenin district, Hanan khadour - a high school student - also died after being shot by Israeli soldiers. 

Ghada and Hanan are two tragic examples of the bitter reality that women and girls are more vulnerable during wars and humanitarian crises, as is the case in Palestine where violence, suffering and needs are permanent features of their lives.

The United Nations Population Fund and Women's Affairs Center in Gaza issued a report to assess the needs of women and girls in the Gaza Strip following eleven days of military operations  from 10th to 21st May 2021. The assessment indicated that 40 women and 23 girls lost their lives, while about 400 were injured and 10% of them are going to suffer from a prolonged disability 6 months after the injury.

The operations also resulted in 101 new widows, not to mention the displacement of more than 107,000 people, 8400 of whom are still displaced, more than half of them are women and girls.

The conflict also causes numerous psychological problems for women and girls, including anxiety, tension, nervousness, excessive irritability, intense fear, sleep disturbances, eating disorders, pessimism, sadness, frustration and many other psychological disorders.

Women bear the burden of taking care of  children and families in an atmosphere of fear, terror, insecurity, threats to life, power cuts, water shortages, and lack of resources.

The stresses of occupation and conflict are direct factors that contribute to higher levels of violence within families, including gender-based violence, early and forced marriage, domestic and sexual violence, harassment, denial of equitable access to resources, and psychological abuse.

According to the results of the latest survey on violence issued by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in 2019, about 29% of married or ever-married women have experienced ‘at least once’ some form of violence (psychological, social, physical, sexual or economic) during their lifetime.

The most common form of violence is psychological violence, reaching up to 52%, while the prevalence of physical violence has reached 17%. For example, in 2021, mental health service providers reported an increase in cases of gender-based violence and violence against women and children and the situation worsened after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) works hard to guarantee and protect the safety, rights and dignity of women and girls everywhere, as efforts made to eliminate the causes of violence and respond to its consequences were insufficient.

According to the current data, only 1.4% of those exposed to violence sought help from a lawyer or specialist, and this is mainly due to the scarcity of essential care services and referral services available for survivors of gender-based violence. Even when those services are available, they are scattered and their quality varies from one area to another.

It is high time that the protection of women and girls, their needs, their empowerment and the guarantee of their human rights are at the heart of interventions by official bodies and local, regional and international partners.

The United Nations Population Fund calls on all states and parties to protect women and not tolerate their killing in all contexts and circumstances.

 

* The writer is the UNFPA Arab States Regional Director

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