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Gendered perspectives on Israel's war on Gaza: The unseen impact on women and children

In its seventh month, the war on Gaza persists as a dire assault on women. According to UN Women, over 10,000 women have tragically lost their lives, with nearly half of them being mothers, leaving behind thousands of orphaned children.

New evidence and data suggests that the Israeli government’s war in Gaza is targeting women, children, and civilians – not, simply as it claims, a "war on terrorism”.

Over the past seven months, the world has been left in shock by the official and international silence and the blatant double standards regarding human rights and women's rights. 

This situation has also underscored the necessity for a nuanced debate on the anti-woke backlash against pro-Palestine protests, and opened an extensive discussion about the gendered impact of the Israeli war on Gaza, sparking sympathies across the MENA region, Europe, the USA, and Australia.

Latest Developments in Gaza and Rafah: What's Happening Now?

In light of the American initiative to halt the war in Gaza, presented by US President Joe Biden, the situation remains dire with continued aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip and Rafah area. Civilian casualties have soared, with the death toll surpassing 36,000 since the war began on October 7, 2023. Simultaneously, tensions escalate between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in southern Lebanon.

This week, several crucial political and diplomatic developments are expected. US efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza are at a critical juncture, with the direction of these efforts likely to be determined within the next few days. Alongside these efforts, there is a push to establish calm on the Lebanese front. 

However, the situation on the ground starkly contrasts with diplomatic maneuvers. The conflict has intensified, with Hezbollah and Israel entering a new phase of combat, expanding their targets, and increasing direct casualties. Israel’s operations in Gaza have resulted in devastating massacres across the northern, southern, and central regions, displacing nearly 1.8 million Gazans into an increasingly confined and inhumane space.

Amidst this, international campaigns and popular movements are fervently condemning the ongoing human tragedy. In a significant political development, on May 10, 2024, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution recognizing Palestine as a full member state, with 145 of the 193 UN member states supporting this status.

The Impact of Systematic Warfare on Women and Children in Gaza

So far, the war has been described as a systematic war and a "self-feeding catastrophe." This means that the Israeli government made its war on Gaza a continuous catastrophe from which other disasters would arise, especially for women. It is believed that this is not an ordinary war and is not similar to the wars that took place in 2021, 2014, or 2009.

Speaking to The Australian Financial Review about the war in Gaza, American author and journalist Bret Stephens said that there is a considerable perception gap in how Israelis see their national interest and international perceptions.

“It’s hard to appreciate the gap between Israeli perceptions of their national interest and international perceptions,” Stephens said.

“The international community thinks that Israel is essentially fighting what we in the States call a war of choice, which is to say they can end it any day and they’ll be okay.

“You can’t speak to an Israeli – including Israelis who on other issues are on the left – without them telling you it’s a war of national survival. It’s an existential war.”

Despite the broader diplomatic and military context of this war, it remains fundamentally directed against women. How, you might ask?

Here's how:

The UN Women report titled "Gender Alert: The Gendered Impact of the Crisis in Gaza" highlights the severe and disproportionate effects of the ongoing conflict on women and children. As of early 2024, over 24,620 Palestinians have been killed, with women and children comprising around 70 per cent of these fatalities. The report emphasizes that the conflict is fundamentally a protection crisis for women, who face immense risks, including gender-based violence and displacement.

Key points from the report include:

1. High Fatalities and Trauma: Since the conflict escalated on October 7, 2023, more than 23,000 Palestinians have died, including about 16,000 women and children. The trauma inflicted on the population is profound, with women and children being the most affected. Women are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence during the conflict.

2. Displacement and Protection Risks: Nearly 1.9 million people have been displaced within Gaza, with close to a million of these being women and girls. These individuals face "impossible decisions" regarding evacuation, often risking attacks and harassment while moving. Displacement has also led to a rise in widowhood, with an estimated 3,000 women becoming widows and heads of households, and about 10,000 children losing their father.

3. Economic and Social Strains: The conflict has exacerbated economic hardships, leading families to adopt desperate coping mechanisms such as early marriage. Women's rights organizations continue to operate under extremely challenging conditions, focusing on emergency responses despite receiving minimal funding from international appeals.

The violence also extends to how the killing of women in Gaza and southern Lebanon is handled, transforming from a condemnable crime to an event disconnected from the political and military context. It's treated with excessive secrecy, minimizing the harm done to women and often accompanied by a disturbing focus on "popular jealousy" towards women who weren't covered in traditional attire. Nowadays, social media is flooded with family photos of shrouded women, serving as undeniable proof of massacres. These images show the faces of all victims, men, and children, while deliberately concealing the faces of women.

How the international community perceives war through a gender perspective?

Diala Chehade, a former lawyer at the International Criminal Court and an expert in international law, highlights that the current war can be accurately gleaned from multiple reports. One report covers the cases of women detained in Israeli prisons, while another addresses attacks on displaced women. This suggests a deliberate establishment of gender-based violence within the context of the war, especially considering the significant violations committed by Israel against women directly or indirectly (related to refusal of entry of UN aid or agencies to Gaza), including the direct targeting of pregnant women. Several reports documenting violations have been submitted by United Nations bodies, which have been relied upon by the International Court of Justice and likely the Court's Prosecutor. 

However, three temporary decisions were at least supported by United Nations reports, considered the most impartial and reliable sources, especially as investigation committees' entry has been prohibited, resulting in the deaths of some UN personnel. In terms of accountability, the United Nations can only issue resolutions or bind parties through the Security Council, which has only managed to agree on a single resolution for a temporary ceasefire. Consequently, the Security Council has failed to provide a lasting solution to the ongoing war and develop a clear and decisive resolution.