No Women’s Day in Gaza, say mothers of hungry children

By Thomson Reuters Mar 8, 2024 | 8:11 AM

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

(Reuters) – Women’s Day? At a tent in Rafah where Um Zaki said she was boiling porridge on an open flame to stave off the hunger of her six children, the holiday passed as a cruel joke.

“Now, all our days look the same. The days of feasts, happy occasions, nice food, laughter and hope, are all gone because of the war,” she told Reuters by phone. “What is Women’s Day? We are deprived of the minimal rights, we are deprived of living. Every day women die by Israeli bombs.”

International Women’s Day, March 8, is typically a major public holiday in the Palestinian territories, when Gaza families put on their finest clothes and flock to hotels and restaurants to celebrate their mothers, daughters and sisters.

Now, with Gaza’s 2.3 million residents nearly all homeless and all struggling for survival, it was painful even to think of such things.

On a day she would normally wear makeup, her face was now streaked with soot from open air cooking fires, Um Zaki said. She started to tell of how her intimate laundry was strung outside the tent on a line for all to see. Another woman near her cried into the phone: “Women’s Day! There is no Women’s Day in Gaza. In Gaza we are close to Doomsday because of Israel!”

In a statement to mark the holiday, the Gaza health ministry said 60,000 pregnant women in the enclave were suffering from dehydration and malnutrition.

“Five thousand pregnant women give birth each month in Gaza amid harsh, insecure, and unhealthy conditions because of the bombardment and displacement,” the statement said.

Health officials in Gaza say nearly 9,000 of the 30,878 people confirmed killed in Israel’s offensive were women, and another 13,000 are children of both sexes. Many thousands more are believed to be dead under the rubble.

With acute hunger now spreading across the enclave and virtually no food available, mothers and small children are the most vulnerable.

Though the crisis has not yet lasted long enough for starvation to kill the huge numbers associated with famine, it is already the most widespread hunger emergency ever witnessed by the IPC, an international body tasked with assessing famine.

The IPC reported last month that Gaza was already experiencing “the highest share of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity the IPC has ever classified for any given area or country”.

The U.N. Palestinian aid agency UNRWA, noted on X that the death toll meant 63 women were being killed in Gaza on average per day, 37 of them mothers.

The Israeli military says it does everything possible to minimize harm to civilians, and accuses Hamas of using civilians as human shields.

Israel says it is not limiting the entry of aid into Gaza, and blames shortfalls on UN agencies charged with distributing aid. They say they cannot do so in a war zone where civil administration has collapsed, and that Israeli troops patrolling Gaza have a duty to ensure the safe delivery of food.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Peter Graff)