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Violence Against Women During War and Conflict

Reflecting on events that have taken place over the last two months, we are deeply concerned for the people caught in the conflict in Gaza. There are differentiated, gendered risks associated with conflict and displacement; bodies of women and girls become targets for sexual violence and are often hijacked as weapons of war.

Water supplies and electricity have been cut off to the city, and the UNFPA currently estimates that there are 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza who cannot access vital ante-natal care and medical protection, 5,522 of whom are expected to deliver in the next month without electricity or medical supplies [1]. As well as little to no access to medical care, reports from the region detail how displaced pregnant women are suffering from fatigue, restricted access to clean water, poor nutrition, as well as the added pressure of fulfilling caring responsibilities to children and dependents [2]. According to Action Aid, global maternal mortality rates double in conflict and post-conflict situations [3]. Urgent action is needed to ensure that pregnant women in Gaza can access vital obstetric care and can give birth in safe, sanitary conditions.

To date, estimates of the number of displaced people in Gaza range from 1 million to 1.5 million. Of these, 788,800 are women and girls [4]. Women and girls also face heightened vulnerability to sexual violence, opportunistic violence such as abduction, rape and trafficking, and intrafamilial violence and IPV during conflict and resulting displacement [5]. We are yet to see data coming out of Palestine on exposure to gender-based violence, however UN data estimates that 1 in 5 female refugees living in humanitarian settings have experienced sexual violence [6]. This is also likely an underestimate when we account for social stigma and inadequate services and law enforcement during times of conflict that lead to significant levels of underreporting. This increased risk of sexual violence in times of armed conflict is also worsened by depleted access to medical assistance as a result of targeted attacks on hospitals, emergency contraception, treatment for injuries or to treat sexually-transmitted infections, and psychosocial support.

Furthermore, there has been a spike in hate speech and anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and anti-Arab attacks around the world in response to the conflict, including the conflation of the actions of the Israeli government with the Jewish community, and the actions of Hamas with Palestinians. This is not only unacceptable but inaccurate and deeply harmful as it gives way to further violence and hatred.

We support calls for a ceasefire to allow for a targeted humanitarian response through a gendered framework. We hope this will protect the lives of millions of women and girls who are at risk from the heightened vulnerability and threat that they face because of their gender.


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