Bombardment, displacement and collapsed health care: a crisis for women and girls in Gaza

23 January 2024
Women and children sheltering in UNRWA shelters in the Gaza Strip © UNRWA Photo by Ashraf Amra

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UNRWA is able provide hygiene kits, including sanitary napkins, with support from the European Union (EU), but more delivery of care to women and girls is urgently needed 


Women and girls are among the most vulnerable groups in any society. Their vulnerability is typically amplified in times of crisis, such as the displacement of Gaza’s population because of the war. Nearly 1 million women and girls have been displaced, and more than 17,000 women and children have been killed since the war began in October. 

Shelters for internally displaced people (IDPs) are unbearably overcrowded with little or no privacy, especially for women and girls. The shelter at the UNRWA Khan Younis Training Center (KYTC), for example, is one of the largest shelters in southern Gaza with 40,000 IDPs and 140 births recorded since the war began. In Rafah, meanwhile, overcrowding means that over 480 people share a single toilet.  

UNRWA Director of Communications, Juliette Touma, reported that while in Gaza the past week “many women told me that they don’t eat and drink not only because there is not enough to go around, but also to limit the time they have to spend going to use the filthy and unsanitary restroom facilities.” 

 

Maysa, Associate Protection Officer from the UNRWA Protection Team at the Khan Younis Training Centre shelter, explains the problem with proper access to sanitary supplies for women.  © 2023 UNRWA Photo by Hussein Owda
Maysa, Associate Protection Officer from the UNRWA Protection Team at the Khan Younis Training Centre shelter, explains the problem with proper access to sanitary supplies for women. © 2023 UNRWA Photo by Hussein Owda

 

Maysa, an Associate Protection Officer from the UNRWA Protection Team at the KYTC, confirms that the team receives numerous requests from displaced women for sanitary pads. “The shortage and scarcity of these supplies in the local market has a psychological and physical impact on women,” she says. A young mother there underscored that, explaining that attempts to use home-made, makeshift alternatives to sanitary pads negatively impact her health and well-being. She adds that she faces significant embarrassment within her family and the displaced community is significant. 

Overall, in Gaza there are over 690,000 menstruating women and adolescent girls who require menstrual hygiene products, in addition to access to clean water, toilets and privacy. Unfortunately, UNRWA cannot meet the high demand for hygiene kits as stocks have either totally run out or are at critically low levels. This scarcity puts women and girls at risk of reproductive and urinary tract infections and protection-related risks. 

UNRWA’s Dr Nisreen sits at her desk in the UNRWA Health Centre in Khan Younis. © 2023 Photo by Hussein Owda
UNRWA’s Dr Nisreen sits at her desk in the UNRWA Health Centre in Khan Younis. © 2023 Photo by Hussein Owda

 

The closure of most stores and pharmacies in Khan Younis has exacerbated this situation. Dr. Nisreen, who works at the UNRWA health centre serving the KYTC shelter, confirms that the hygiene kits distributed to women at the shelter do not include sufficient sanitary pads.The scarcity of this product in the markets has led to increased prices, making it difficult for displaced individuals to afford them,” she says.  

To date, UNRWA has distributed over 80,000 family hygiene kits to IDPs in Gaza since the start of the war. The Agency will be able to provide more of the same with support from the EU, which has contributed a total of EUR 14 million to date for internally displaced persons for the provision of shelter support items, including supplies such as hygiene kits. Unfortunately, much more will be needed to alleviate the catastrophic humanitarian situation, which is particularly acute among vulnerable women and girls. Delivering humanitarian aid continues to face near insurmountable challenges, including constant bombardment and access restrictions. The level of life-saving humanitarian assistance entering the Gaza Strip is minimal and far below what the civilian population needs to survive.