Thursday, February 26, 2009

Under the Bombing, a Girl Called Hope

Inter Press Service, February 26, 2009 - Ghalia Hussein's husband refused to evacuate their Rafah home near the Israeli border amid heavy bombardment during the recent 22-day siege. Struck by a missile at the top of their stairs, he bled to death while ambulances attempted to reach him. He left Ghalia three children, a destroyed home, and no income to speak of.

"I had to flee with the children. There was nothing we could do," Ghalia said from the United Nations (UN) school in Rafah where she took refuge during the conflict. "Now, I have nothing. How will we survive?"

Making up half of the coastal enclave's 1.5 million people, Gaza's women - and their children - bore the brunt of Israel's deadly Operation Cast Lead. They are the post-war period's most vulnerable population, says the UN.

According to Gaza's health ministry, 114 women were killed and nearly 1,000 wounded in the three-week Israeli assault. And countless women like Ghalia are now economically and psychologically wounded by the war. In all more than 1,300 people died in the assault, more than 5,300 are injured.

Having lost husbands and sons in the fighting, and living with an unemployment rate of 49 percent, women in the Gaza Strip will begin to rely increasingly on humanitarian assistance, the UN says.

Women faced relentless hardship and tragedy throughout the war, taking on the responsibilities of male relatives who had died, looking for food for their families while under assault, and digging for their children in the rubble.

Earlier this month, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women declared that "the human rights of women in Gaza, in particular to peace and security, free movement, livelihood and health, have been seriously violated during this military engagement."

Women and children were hit hardest by food shortages, while women encountered the greatest difficulty attempting to reach Gaza's besieged hospitals, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

"It's been days since my daughter has had her insulin, but it was too dangerous to leave our home," said Abu Haithem in the emergency room of the Al-Naser hospital in Khan Younis Jan. 16, just before the ceasefire. "Then a missile hit the house next to us and we had to run."

Abu Haithem was forced to leave her seven other children with a stranger in her village outside of Khan Younis to finally bring her 14-year-old diabetic daughter to the hospital. Her husband had died in the missile attack on her neighbour.

Pregnant women and their unborn and newborn children were one of the most underreported casualties of the war, says the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)....

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