Podcast: Gaza women “suffering but struggling,” says Dr. Mona el-Farra

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Women in Gaza commemorate International Women’s Day. The basic rights of Palestinian women, says Dr. Mona el-Farra, are being violated under Israel’s occupation. 

Ashraf Amra APA images

This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:

Rush transcript: Dr. Mona el-Farra, physician, Union of Health Work Committees, Palestinian Red Crescent Society and Director of Gaza Projects with the Middle East Children’s Alliance

The Electronic Intifada: If you could give us your best analysis of women’s rights, as we commemorate International Women’s Day, under tightening Israeli restrictions, especially in Gaza, but all over Palestine.

Mona el-Farra: When I talk on this occasion, I think of ordinary women who are living under occupation and siege, and endure the most difficult situations, while living such a life. All the community are living under these circumstances. But especially women, they take the brunt of this occupation and siege. And when there is a prevalence of poverty in Gaza — I’ll talk about Gaza here — and an increase in domestic violence because of the abnormal life we are living under the siege and the occupation, so you can imagine how difficult is the life of those women.

And how admirable [it is] that we are still coping with the abnormal situations, women here in Gaza should celebrate their steadfastness but still it doesn’t mean that they are not subjected to trauma. For example, in our projects with the Middle East Children’s Alliance, we are faced with many women who are subjected to trauma because of the situation. And they have double roles — they have to take care of themselves and their family as well. And endure the bad economical situation, because as I have said earlier, the poverty level has increased because of the high unemployment, lack of resources, and all the life here in Gaza doesn’t help them to lead normal lives.

So it is not strange to see increasing number of women who are coming to our projects — the Middle East Children’s Alliance’s projects — to seek support. We support them through programs that educate them how to look after themselves, and how to look after their children during the crisis, and in normal life as well — because as I said earlier, that is very difficult, and these sort of [MECA] projects — we do it in cooperation with the Red Crescent Society and New Horizons for Women and Children, these projects aim to educate women about mental health issues, for example, post-traumatic stress disorder — how to deal with their children during a crisis. We try, we try to help.

And I think that while women in Gaza are still suffering from not having their basic needs, like the right to health, the right to education, a right to water, the right to live — because it is unsafe and insecure in Gaza — we are struggling hard for these basic rights while other women around the world are talking about equality with men and jobs and other issues, basic rights for the Palestinian humans, including women, are still violated and not sufficient for ordinary human beings.

EI: Dr. Mona, as a physician yourself, can you talk about what was included in this report that we ran by Eva Bartlett, talking about anemia and poor pregnancy outcome and also a rise in maternity deaths — can you talk about how the siege and occupation contributes to these health effects for women?

ME: I can say that anemia amongst women has increased — 45 percent of women in Gaza are … suffering from anemia, and this is a high level of anemia. And children too, [school-age] children, the anemia level is increasing, and this is very alarming too, but let’s go back to women. When 45 percent of women are suffering from anemia, that directs you to the next conclusion that this is poverty. This is poverty that is hidden. Because when you come to Gaza, on the surface you find life is normal, a lot of shops, many things, but poverty is there, not everybody, just 5 percent of the population can afford to buy [from the shops], and with the aid from the international aid agency, it supplies families with basic food but not the well-balanced food to bring up healthy families and healthy children.

EI: Dr. Mona, what are you most concerned about as a physician when you see these kinds of statistics?

ME: I am concerned about the future of the children, because anemia means that children will be unable to develop normally, and unable to focus at school. So we will be faced in the next few years with a generation that is not capable [to be] strong. And this is my main worry about the children.

It is these projects — we call our project Let Them Play And Heal. Because it is ongoing conflict, ongoing aggression and … against the children of Gaza, and so we do psychological support for women and children through entertaining activities. And because it is a longterm crisis, not an acute crisis — it is actually acute on top of chronic crisis — that’s why these projects where provide children with space, entertaining, reading, writing, drama, it feeds their psychological well-being. It is not just about food, food is very important, it is a basic need — but the psychological well-being of the children is very, very important.

Because as I said, this is ongoing, and we don’t want to end up with a very traumatized society, a very traumatized community, so these projects help to support their psychological well-being.

For more information on the projects of the Middle East Children’s Alliance, visit their website.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).