Women caught in the conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas are now suffering from a severe shortage of menstruation hygiene productsto the point that they are having to cut canvas strips from tents and scraps of clothing as a substitute for sanitary pads, risking infection and deadly toxic shock syndrome.
Since the Israeli onslaught on the Palestinian enclave began on October 7, the total siege on Gaza has prevented hygiene and period products from entering the Strip. Of the 1.9 million Gazans who have fled south to Rafah, one million are estimated to be women and girls and the United Nations estimated that there are 700,000 women and girls in Gaza experiencing menstrual cycles who cannot access the hygiene products.
Riham Jafari, advocacy and communications coordinator at ActionAid Palestine, said the aid trucks that were able to penetrate the enclave mostly prioritized food and medical aid, rather than sanitary products for women. “Women in Gaza go to many places and walk long distances to search in all the pharmacies for pads, but they can’t find them,” Jafari told news outlet Middle East Eye. As a result, most females are now using menstruation-delaying pills to block their periods since sanitary products are scarce and pills are generally more available as they are not commonly used.
Also, keeping themselves clean is an added struggle. Many of them live in makeshift tents and have difficulty accessing clean running water and toilets due to overcrowding. With only one of three water pipelines in Gaza functioning, women are unable to wash themselves, some have said they’ve gone weeks without showering. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) estimated that there is only one toilet per 486 people at its shelters in Rafah.
“We suffer a lot whenever we want to go to the bathroom. We stand in line for a long time and the bathrooms are far away,” a woman who was displaced from her home with her four children told global federation ActionAid International. “This is a new form of suffering experienced by women in Gaza. This situation is extremely difficult for women and adolescent girls, who lack safe, private and dignified places to manage their menstrual hygiene,” Jafari added. Babies are being “delivered into hell”
Apart from the unsanitary living conditions, pregnant women in labor are undergoing cesarean procedures without anesthetic. What is worse, they are being discharged just hours after the operation, according to United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) spokesperson Tess Ingram.
Since there is only one operational maternity hospital left in Gaza, women in labor are forced to share beds or give birth in their tents or toilets. “Two women who were sharing a bed maybe an hour after getting a cesarean, they were then moved to a chair to free the bed up to somebody else, and discharged after three hours to go back to their shelter,” Ingram reported after she visited the El Emirati Maternity Hospital on Jan. 12. “They are terrified, they are scared about the lack of medical care, but they’re also scared about the prospect of bringing a newborn baby into such an uncertain place.”
UNICEF reported that 20,000 babies have been born in Gaza since the conflict started in October. After delivery, mothers are forced to nurse their newborns in tents and are often unable to find clothes and nappies. According to ActionAid, food supply shortages have left many new mothers too malnourished to breastfeed their newborns.
Meanwhile, a shocking press release dated January 19 from the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, indicated that the Gaza crisis is impacting women and girls at unprecedented levels with loss of life and catastrophic levels of humanitarian need. The study found that around 70 percent of people killed in the enclave are estimated to be women and children, including two mothers per hour killed since the beginning of the crisis. (Related: Israel downplays assassination of two women in Gaza church by absurdly claiming they were “Hamas spotters.”)
UN Women also estimated that at least 3,000 women may have become widows and heads of household, in urgent need of protection and food assistance, and at least 10,000 children may have lost their fathers. And so, more women fear that families will resort to desperate coping mechanisms including early marriage.
The statement also said the organization is calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. It asked that no effort should be spared to ensure womens and girls’ protection and safe access to rapid and unimpeded humanitarian assistance. It also reiterated its deep concern at accounts of unconscionable sexual violence and other gender-based violence during the attacks, its call for accountability, justice, and support for all those affected, and for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.
Check out Humanitarian.newsfor more stories on the current living conditions of women and children in Gaza.
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