Assessing the Situation of Women in Gaza

  • 10 March 2009

GAZA, Occupied Palestinian Territory –Emergency situations compound the vulnerability of pregnant women, as an assessment of reproductive health services during the recent crisis here revealed.

Surveyed facilities reported a 31 per cent increase in miscarriage cases admitted to maternity ward during the conflict, as well as an increase in obstetric complications. One hospital reported a 50 per cent increase in neonatal death.

The information comes from rapid assessments supported by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, to gauge the impact of Gaza’s most recent crisis on the reproductive and mental health of women and girls. During Israel’s 23-day military campaign in the Gaza Strip, about 1,300 Palestinians were killed and some 5,300 were injured, in the heavy bombardment and fighting in densely populated areas, according to UN sources.

The first assessment helped determine the extent and effects of damage to health facilities and services, especially maternal, newborn and obstetric care services. Data were consolidated from monthly facility service records, assessments of maternity wards in major hospitals, secondary analysis of ministry of health operations room reports, and qualitative feedback from key informants.

Some 5,000 deliveries occurred in medical facilities in January compared to an average of 4,000 deliveries per month prior to the crisis, according to the report. The increase, which does not include deliveries that occurred outside of a medical facility, may reflect premature deliveries resulting from stress and shock.

The second assessment identified the psychosocial difficulties women are facing in the aftermath of the conflict and their immediate and ongoing social and psychological needs. The report’s findings were based on focus group discussions with women of various ages from all over the Gaza Strip. The assessment concluded that women and their families were severely affected by the war, with the most common symptoms being fear, anxiety, panic attacks, feelings of insecurity, sleeping and eating disorders, depression and sadness. A large number of respondents reported that during the incursion they expected to die any minute.

The assessment also indicated many women were unable to breastfeed or to provide adequate care for newborns due to the trauma of the conflict. The survey also highlights particular vulnerabilities of women who, as a result of the military attacks, will be permanently disabled and will no longer be able to play the traditional caregiver roles they had played before, which will have a wider impact on the family as a whole. While some women have suffered broken bones and other injuries from which they can recover, others are dealing with long-term disabilities.

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