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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Gaza’s women are bearing brunt of war’s toll, aid groups say

By Victoria Kim

International agencies, aid workers and physicians are giving a harrowing picture of what they say is the disproportionate burden and risk of war borne by the women of the Gaza Strip.

With a barely functioning health care system, extreme shortages of food and clean water, and repeated displacement, pregnant women, mothers and newborns are particularly vulnerable, the groups say.

Out of every 10 people killed in Gaza since the Oct. 7 attack in Israel that prompted the war, seven have been women or children, a “cruel inversion” compared with the previous 15 years, when roughly the same proportion of civilians killed in the territory were men, according to U.N. Women, the United Nations’ women’s rights agency.

The agency said in a report released Friday that two mothers were being killed every hour. The agency extrapolated that figure by comparing demographic data on marriage and motherhood in Gaza with the total number of women reported to have been killed. The report also said that nearly 1 million women and girls had been displaced by the fighting.

On Sunday, health officials in Gaza updated the overall death toll, saying that more than 25,000 Palestinians had been killed in the war.

Separately, an official with UNICEF who recently visited Gaza and met with mothers at a hospital in Rafah, the southern city that has become the refuge of last resort for civilians fleeing the fighting, said Friday that the situation for pregnant women and newborns was “beyond belief.”

Tess Ingram, a communications specialist with UNICEF, gave a briefing in Geneva and described speaking with a midwife who said she had performed emergency C-sections on six dead women in the past eight weeks and seen more miscarriages than she could count. A woman told her that her fetus had gone still inside her womb but wondered out loud whether it was for the best that “a baby isn’t born into this nightmare,” Ingram recounted.

“Becoming a mother should be a time for celebration,” she said. “In Gaza, it’s another child delivered into hell.”

The report and Ingram’s remarks echoed the warnings of a letter published in the most recent issue of the British medical journal The Lancet, in which five public health experts said “urgent protection” was needed for Gaza’s pregnant women. The World Health Organization has estimated that there are about 52,000 pregnant women in the enclave, with about 180 births each day.

“Women who are pregnant and exposed to armed conflict have higher rates of miscarriage, stillbirths, prematurity, congenital abnormalities and other adverse outcomes,” they said. “What we are currently witnessing will most probably create long-lasting generational effects.”

U.N. Women has faced a storm of criticism for being slow to address the sexual violence committed during the Hamas-led assault in Israel on Oct. 7. On Friday, the agency’s executive director, Sima Bahous, said in a statement that the organization condemns “all acts of sexual and gender-based violence wherever, whenever, and against whomever they are perpetrated” and called for accountability.

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