Periods don’t stop for war
Maternal and newborn health is far from the only concern. Insufficient supplies, resources, and equipment for sexual and reproductive health and rights were already a pressing issue in Gaza, which has been under Israeli occupation and blockade for decades. Periods don’t stop in a crisis, and women and girls in Gaza are menstruating without the basic decency of pads, tampons or other safe alternatives, compelling them to use period-delaying pills that may have dangerous side-effects. For the over 690,000 menstruating women and girls in Gaza, this is compounded by the severe lack of water, hygiene and privacy.
Contraception is also in very short supply, with reports of women sharing contraceptive pills leading to unintended pregnancies. The unavailability of condoms, which were already heavily restricted in Gaza, will lead to the transmission of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Urinary tract infections are also on the rise with limited or no access to medical treatment. Women with intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUDs) are facing complications like bleeding and infections due to unsanitary camp conditions. There are currently no available options for IUD removal in Gaza, posing potential long-term risks to women's reproductive health, including the risk of severe bleeding.
Reproductive justice is inherently political
The psychological toll of the hostilities continue to wreak havoc on women’s bodies and bodily autonomy. In recent decades, the acknowledgment of the "demographic threat" has become more explicit. Higher Palestinian fertility rates are not only viewed as a personal family matter but also framed as a security threat by Israeli officials. This perspective emphasizes the need not just to prevent Palestinians from returning but also to implement policies restricting population growth. Israel's settler-colonial regime of violating Palestinians' right to live has long instructed Israel’s operations and the occupation structures that sustain it.
Reem Alsalem, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls has warned that the continual reproductive violence inflicted by Israel on Palestinian women, newborns, infants, and children might be considered acts of genocide under Article 6 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which encompasses actions such as "imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group”. The gravity of this declaration underscores the necessity to address reproductive justice as inherently political while acknowledging the intentional severity of such reproductive violence that has prompted U.N. experts to warn that Palestinians were “at grave risk of genocide.”
A feminist approach to providing full access to sexual and reproductive health and rights means ensuring equality and justice for all women and marginalized groups. Feminist foreign policy entails an end to violence and access to full humanitarian aid and full respect for international and humanitarian law – without exceptions. This includes differentiating between civilians and combatants, and does not tolerate collective punishment, as is being inflicted on Gazan civilians, particularly women and children.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights are crucial to Palestinian women’s freedom
For generations, Palestinian women have persistently navigated and negotiated their right to bodily autonomy in unimaginably difficult circumstances. With such severe restrictions on their ability to exercise their rights to sexual and reproductive healthcare, women have no choice but to resort to informal means to access sexual health services. Whether it's through unsafe abortion, using period-delaying pills, or unmarried women and girls seeking contraception discreetly, these actions are not a reflection of admirable resourcefulness, but rather a lamentable perseverance to resist and live. Access to SRH services stands as a pivotal issue in Palestinian women's pursuit of self-determination, one that is intrinsically political. Reproductive violence is tied to determining the fate of future generations to come in the wider context of eradicating the Palestinian population. Therefore, it must be liberated from the intertwining influences of occupation and patriarchy.
Palestine is a litmus test. It is a test of our collective commitment to sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls, and to the freedom for all people everywhere. Now is the time to protest, boycott, organize, and demand that the voices of the oppressed be heard.
Banner image: Anas-Mohammed, Shutterstock