CONDITIONS AND RIGHTS OF INTERNALLY DISPLACED GIRLS
AND WOMEN DURING THE LATEST ISRAELI MILITARY
OPERATION ON THE GAZA STRIP
The Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA) in cooperation with the UN
Gender Based Violence sub-working group (GBV-SWG) led by the United
Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Speech of the Ministry of Women Affairs (MoWA)
The past months were the hardest months ever on the Palestinian people. I can even affirm that these months were harder and more difficult than the Nakbah in 1948. From the Nakbah up to present, Palestinians have been obliged to live under harsh and tragic circumstances. They have also experienced difficult times. This war left a deep impact on civilian people. It left many families suffering from various types of torture, depriving them of their simplest rights represented in living in safety, security and peace. Moreover, these aggressions became increasingly more fierce, severe and cruel with unprecedented escalation. Women and children were particularly affected by the last Israeli military operation on Gaza, with total disregard for international laws that protect women's safety and integrity during armed conflicts. UN Security Council Resolution 1325 of 2000 emphasizes protection of women in times of war and conflict.
For decades, Palestinian women and girls, in particular, have suffered from the continuous Israeli assaults and violations, which resulted in killing hundreds of women and girls and Palestinians, in general. This situation requires sufficient protection for women and girls from violence perpetrated against them and the ongoing violation of their rights. During seven weeks of fierce aggression on Gaza, from 7 July to 26 August, 2014, 582 children and 302 women were killed; another 10,870 people were injured including 3,303 children and 2,120 women. It is worth noting that one-third of the wounded children will suffer from permanent disability. Moreover, 450,000 citizens were forcefully displaced from their homes and had to take refuge in shelters, government and UNRWA schools, mosques, relatives' houses, worship houses and other sites that were not prepared and inappropriate for living under any circumstances, making life impossible and unbearable for all those who took to them as shelters.
This study examines the realities lived by those who sought refuge in these various shelters and assesses the suitability of living conditions within these. It also highlights the most important problems faced by people living in the shelters so as to ensure improved conditions in the future. Finally, I'd like to extend my thanks to those who prepared the study for the invaluable time and efforts they exerted to make this study possible. We also wish that this study be followed with other studies that address other problems faced by Palestinian women, who deserve all appreciation, support and assistance.
Dr. Haifa Fahmi Agha
Minister of Women Affairs Gaza,
16 October 2014
Speech of the Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA)
The repeated aggression and the more than seven-year-long siege on the Gaza Strip has led to the deterioration of health and socio-economic conditions, high rates of unemployment and an increase in psycho-social stress for Palestinian girls and women. All these factors came to worsen the life of girls and women in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli aggression in summer 2014 resulted in the displacement of around 500,000 persons (28%) of the total population in the Gaza Strip; most of them are women and children. More than 2,000 were killed and the number of injured was five times that number. This latest aggression intensified the sufferings of Gaza people and exacerbated a range of issues that need to be urgently addressed.
One of the most significant hardships experienced by girls and women was their forced displacement as they fled from their homes to emergency shelters and host families to escape shelling and killing. The scale of displacement and destruction of homes speak to the magnitude of the crisis to which girls and women were exposed and how every aspect of their lives was affected, including securing shelter, privacy and dignity for themselves and their families, especially since home represents life, protection and dignity for girls and women.
A place subjected to such hardships and repeated aggressions as the Gaza Strip requires reflecting on the previous experiences and learning lessons from them so as to alleviate as fully as possible the cumulative damage is and respond to the needs of different groups, especially marginalized groups such as children and women.
This study comes as part of the ongoing efforts of the Culture and Free thought Association (CFTA) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to protect girls and women and promote their role in the society so as to empower them to achieve their rights as guaranteed by various laws and conventions. This study highlights the particular conditions and suffering of girls and women in shelters and with host families during the latest war on Gaza.
The assessment of needs related to protection and security of Palestinian women in shelters and with host families in comparison with the available services is an important means of developing effective interventions that respond to the actual needs of girls and women and ensuring that gender is taken into consideration during the design and implementation of projects and programs. It is also a key step in exploring the gap in the protection services provided for girls and women in the Gaza Strip.
UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund would like to extend its thanks and appreciation to the Palestinian Ministry of Women's Affairs represented by H. E. Dr. Haifa Al-Agha for their support and cooperation during the assessment process.
UN FPA would like also to extend its thanks and deep appreciation to our long term partner the Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA) and the data collection teams, who have demonstrated an unprecedented level of dedication, commitment and professionalism in conducting this important assessment at a high level of quality.
Many thanks go to the UN Gender Based Violence Sub-Working Group (GBV-SWG) for their support and cooperation which made this study possible.
On 8 July, 2014, Israel launched a military operation in Gaza Strip. The operation, which was dubbed “Operation Protective Edge” by the Israeli army and which continued for 51 incessant days, witnessed increasing military operations in which the most forceful of war machines were used from land, air and sea and caused comprehensive destruction in the majority of Gaza areas. The scale of destruction and dispersion was unprecedented and some areas were almost entirely wiped out, while many houses and civil establishments were transformed into heaps of debris. This fierce military operation resulted in killing a large number of civilians (2,133), including 257 women and 500 children (187 girls and 313 boys). This was in addition to the massive destruction of houses, mosques, factories and organizations and the bulldozing of thousands dunums of agricultural lands’.
During this conflict, thousands of Palestinian families were obliged to leave their homes to unofficial shelters including homes of relatives, friends, uninhabited houses, churches, mosques, UNRWA schools and governmental schools in search of a safe place. Due to the immensity of the crisis and because the number of internally dispersed people far exceeded those used emergency plans based on previous experiences, school shelters lacked the simplest components of human life. Within this context, the levels of hunger, thirst and deprivation were traumatically reminiscent of historical experiences of displacement and exile lived by previous generations of Palestinians.
The Israeli military operation, compounded by the harsh siege under which the Gaza Strip has been held for more than eight years, led to continuous electricity cuts; lack of fuel, medicines and medical equipment; and the depletion of basic food stuffs. This military operation came at a time when Gaza people were already suffering from poverty, unemployment and limited sources of income. All these factors increased challenges that confronted households and women during and after the latest crisis in Gaza.
Within this context, this study was undertaken immediately following the last Israeli military operation on Gaza Strip, which, as mentioned above, left a deep impact on the conditions and rights of girls and women, including an increase in cases of violence against them in emergency shelters, host families homes and in other places of refuge. This study has been conducted by the UN Gender Based Violence sub-working group (GBV-SWG) led by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in cooperation with the Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA). The study monitors the reality of violence against girls and women during the Israeli military operation and assesses both their protection needs and the actual services provided for them in emergency shelters and host families homes in order to make conclusions and recommendations that enable various stakeholders build informed program interventions in the near future. These interventions should be developed in a manner that is relevant and responsive to actual needs and one that proactively takes gender into consideration during the planning and implementation processes of programs, projects and activities through:
1. Understanding the reality of girls and women during the Israeli military operation on Gaza Strip, especially regarding violence against them;
2. Evaluating services provided for girls and women by local and international organization during the Israeli military operation on the Gaza Strip; and
3. Examining protection mechanisms that were available for girls and women during the Israeli military operation on the Gaza Strip and the extent to which these mechanisms were relevant and responsive to their actual needs.
Before presenting study findings, an introduction provides a brief overview of a gender-based approach to working in the context of war and armed conflict including the assessment of women’s needs and the setting-up of relevant programs for the protection of women to ensure their rights, and reduce violence against them in times of conflict.
The study consists of three chapters. Chapter One provides a background to the study and presents its methodology, Chapter Two analyzes the study results, while Chapter Three includes results and recommendations. The main body of the report is followed by a set of supporting Annexes.
Study results are based on a series of research activities undertaken directly after the military operation on the Gaza Strip came to an end in August 2014. These included 18 focus groups with 219 displaced men and women in emergency shelters and host families homes, 18 key informant interviews with representatives (17 females and 1 male) of local and international organizations working in the field of social and health service provision for women and the services mapping in which 22 local, international and UN organizations participated, and finally, the safety and protection assessment tool in 13 shelters targeted by the study. Key research findings include the following:
5. Displaced girls and women in emergency shelters need privacy to maintain their security, dignity and personal hygiene. Therefore, girls and women’s special needs should be taken into consideration during designing and implementation of programs for these shelters.
6. A need to seriously work on ensuring the physical and psychological safety and integrity of girls and women as well as maintenance of their human dignity in the emergency shelters during and post conflict.
7. Women in host families’ homes and in emergency shelters endured living patterns different from those in their homes. They were obliged to co-exist with unfamiliar patterns due to the conflict and displacement. This reality exposed them to psychological pressures, anxiety and fear.
8. Girls and women were subjected to many types and varying degrees of violence practiced against them whether in the emergency shelters or host families homes. Women often responded to these types of violence with silence or by practicing violence on their children especially on girls.
9. Girls and women were subjected to discrimination in receiving aid and services in emergency shelters during the conflict, particularly in the absence of rules that control distribution processes and mechanisms.
10. Some displaced women were dismissed from the emergency shelters during the conflict due to overcrowding and some women were maltreated by the shelters’ administrations and workers.
11. Absence of effective protection mechanisms such as partition screens and locks on doors, safety of windows and sufficient and continuous lighting. This exacerbated the girls’ and women’s feelings of anxiety and fear of being subjected to violations.
12. Lack of control over the performance of emergency shelters; this contributed to aggravating girls and women’s feelings of insecurity and discrimination.
13. There is a need to conduct in-depth research examining connections between tension and domestic violence of girls and women before, during and after the most recent large scale Israeli military aggression.
Form a national committee in which women are fairly represented to handle the impact of the most recent crisis, especially on girls and women. This committee shall be in permanent and effective communication with relevant national and international organizations so as to put forward women’s demands in the reconstruction process in the Gaza Strip.
Document gender-based violations to which women were subjected during the conflict and strengthen available capacities to monitor violations of International Humanitarian Law related to women.
Protect physical and psychological integrity and respect of girls and women in time of conflict by providing safe shelters, under governmental supervision, in which displaced women, each in her area, can take shelter.
Recognize the necessity for full consideration of the impact of the most recent crisis on women, while designing projects, support and training for them.
Women need to develop new skills that empower them to achieve the most possible self-sustenance through income-generating projects. Therefore, it is necessary to consult women during projects phases of planning, implementation and evaluation.
Implement training courses in psycho-social support for girls and women and linking these courses with post-crisis livelihood facilitation, in an attempt to alleviate the conflict impact and provide them with social support.
Organize trained and gender-sensitive women groups that oversee provision of safe shelters for women and children taking into account women’s post-conflict needs.
Immediately put pressure to implement the national strategy for combating violence against women.
Establish mobile psycho-social clinics, particularly in areas that have been subjected to enormous destruction such as Ash-Shejaiya, Khuza’and Beit Hanoun and use different media to ensure public awareness regarding their objectives and services.
Establish women’s media and lobby group to monitor the reconstruction process, ensure inclusion of women and girls needs in the process, and guarantee that it works in accordance with the gender justice principle.
Raise awareness amongst girls and women about the increase of violence against them during war and armed conflict and support ongoing efforts of Palestinian organizations and the national strategy for combating violence against women within a framework informed by conditions of war and armed conflict, rather than relying solely on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which focuses on violence against women in times of peace and stability, without referring to violence against them in times of war and armed conflicts.
Continue pressure on organizations and decision makers to involve women in developing protection strategies and mechanisms for girls and women during war and armed conflict.
Involve women in planning, implementation and evaluation in a manner that ensures programs respond to girls’ and women’s actual needs and support and strengthen women’s already existing capacities and mechanisms for overcoming hardship.
Set up national policies at different levels to reduce violence against women, particularly during armed conflict.
Motivate the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics to issue a special survey on the crisis integrating gender perspectives across statistical data in a manner that can serve as a reference for programs, projects and policies related to girls and women in post-conflict situations.