Charles Dickens wrote his infamous line “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” in 1859, but truth be told, no other line could sum up the kind of world we live in today better than this. The world is torn between war and peace, and while most of us get to sit in the quiet of our homes and peacefully go about our day-to-day lives, millions of people in Ukraine, Russia, Israel and Palestine don’t even know if they will wake up to see the sun tomorrow. While the number of deaths in all these countries differ by a great margin, what’s common about their state of war is that women and children, who neither came up with the concept of war nor consent to it, are being targeted and killed in huge numbers. We must ask why? Why are the sexual violence cases by Russian troops on Ukrainian women on the rise? Why did more than 70 children from Yahidne, Ukraine report being sexually abused by the Russian troops? Why are teenagers recruited by political parties like Fatah and Hamas in Palestine to fight in a literal war? The list of questions can go on and on, but let's address the most important question first.
Why do we talk about women and children during wars?
It is crucial to address the plight of women and children during wars as they are among the most vulnerable and disproportionately affected by conflicts. Women and children do not initiate wars, yet they often bear the brunt of the consequences, as can be seen in Gaza currently. They face the horrors of displacement, violence, sexual assault, and disrupted access to essential resources like food and healthcare. Ignoring their struggles perpetuates a cycle of suffering, hinders post-war recovery, and disregards the critical role women play in rebuilding societies.
Moreover, menstruation in conflict zones can be particularly challenging, as access to sanitary products and facilities is limited. This can lead to health risks and complicate daily life. Since Israel controls all sea and air access to Gaza and most of its land borders, people in Palestine are left with no access to healthcare and other basic amenities.
When Hamas attacked Israel on 7th October 2023, they abducted, raped, killed and then paraded naked the body of a 22-year old German influencer, Shani Louk around the city to exert power and control over the Israeli population. How and when did our idea of womanhood and honour become so intermixed, that men in war can’t tell one from the other? Children, on the other hand, have neither the means to fight nor escape the war, both physically and mentally. Yet, hundreds and thousands of children are killed, injured, sexually assaulted and orphaned for the honour of a country. What is even more frightening is that men at war target women and children because they don’t expect them to fight back, and it creates a psychological upheaval in the minds of the soldiers at war because their families back home are unsafe. As is evident in history, all wars started by men end up putting women and children on the line.
Displacement and Refugees
The displacement of women and children during conflicts, exemplified by the dire situation in Gaza, presents a harrowing narrative of suffering and resilience. In conflict zones like Gaza, women and children often endure a disproportionate share of the hardships as refugees. Displacement robs them of their homes, security, and access to vital resources, leaving them vulnerable to violence, hunger, and disease. The Gaza Strip, in particular, faces a long-standing humanitarian crisis exacerbated by recurring conflicts, making it a poignant case study. These women and children confront overcrowded living conditions, limited access to healthcare, and interrupted education, magnifying the trauma of conflict.
The conflict in Gaza underscores the tragic displacement of women and children during wars, exposing them to unspeakable horrors. In this ongoing strife, women often become victims of violence, including death and sexual assault, while children lose their homes and, at times, their families. Displaced women face not only the immediate physical risks but also the long-term emotional scars of conflict. For children, the war in Gaza has shattered their sense of security and robbed them of a stable future. This stark reality highlights the urgent need for international attention and action to protect the rights and lives of these vulnerable populations, promoting both physical and psychological recovery in the aftermath of war.
The media's portrayal of women and children in conflict, especially in the context of Gaza, often falls into problematic stereotypes and narratives. These portrayals can perpetuate a one-dimensional view of women and children as passive victims. There is a dire need to challenge such stereotypes by emphasising the agency, resilience, and diverse experiences of women and children in conflict zones like Gaza. This encourages a more nuanced examination of their roles, not just as victims, but as active participants in survival and resistance. It sheds light on the leadership roles that women take in supporting their families and communities. Instead of asking why women and children must be spoken about at length as though men aren’t fighting the war on the frontline, let’s all take a step back and understand that not only are men in authorities responsible for the war, but they have also time and again used women and children as pawns in their thirst for power and control. All citizens of Gaza are facing a reality that none of us could even imagine, and women and children there have been reduced to collateral damage which is not only dehumanising but it also is a terrorising reiteration of the fact that we live in a world created by men, for men to actively participate in and for men to benefit from. No matter which country people die from, the war will end in millions of women sexually assaulted, traumatised, homeless and hundreds of children killed and orphaned from both the countries and that’s a shame!