The imperative of mainstreaming gender in humanitarian action in Palestine: six case studies from Gaza



Fifty-three years of Israel’s occupation, over 13 years of land, sea and air blockade, recurrent rounds of conflict, three devastating wars in the space of less than six years (2008-2014), and the ongoing internal Palestinian political divide, have all left the densely populated and impoverished Gaza Strip (5,203 inhabitants per km2) in a state of disrepair with chronic energy and water crises. Back in 2012, the UN Country Team (UNCT) warned that Gaza would be unliveable and its economy would be unviable by 2020. In 2021, the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) estimates that approximately 2.45 million Palestinians across the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) will require some form of humanitarian assistance. About 64 per cent of those, or 1.57 million people, live in the Gaza Strip. The public health crisis of COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the already dire situation in Gaza where the health sector is over-stretched and struggling to cope. Unemployment rates are very high among women and youth and the chances of getting a job are almost nil. It is reported that Gender-based violence (GBV) incidence, particularly against women and girls, is increasing, and already negative coping mechanism such as school drop-outs and early marriage are becoming more common.

While the different needs of women, girls and boys and those with disabilities are increasingly recognised and mainstreamed in the different phases of humanitarian programming: planning, implementation and monitoring, ensuring full gender-responsive interventions is ever more urgent during this crisis. Inclusive humanitarian programming that ensures full integration of gender bolsters human rights-based approaches, builds resilience, saves lives and leaves no one behind. Through six case studies from Gaza, this document illustrates the urgency of considering gender both in understanding the impact of the humanitarian situation on Palestinians in Gaza and in providing aid that is responsive to their distinct gendered circumstances and needs.

For example, women and men have different needs, priorities and expectations when it comes to access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Access to proper sanitation as well as related knowledge and practices are directly influenced by gender relations and roles. WASH facilities and access to water is associated with responsibilities undertaken by women, as they are the ones responsible for the daily running of household chores and meeting the basic needs of family members.

In addressing Gaza’s chronic food insecurity, women’s essential and often unpaid contribution to the agricultural sector is overlooked. Women farmers continue to face gendered barriers to land ownership and agricultural livelihoods. More efforts are needed to gather comprehensive and reliable data on women’s contribution to the food and agricultural sector, especially unpaid and informal labour, so future policies and interventions can better support and empower them to improve Gaza food security.

The perpetually deteriorating socio-economic and political conditions in the Gaza Strip not only does it create increased rates of trauma and psychosocial challenges, but when combined with a defunct healthcare system and systemic restrictions on movement, it facilitates the spread of drug use. Women and girls who have become addicted to drugs also experience gender-based violence and are likely to experience domestic violence. This is contrasted with men and boys, who are more likely to be treated as ill and in need of support and treatment in order to overcome their addiction. Cultural norms and stereotypes often negate or deny that women and girls are likely to resort to drug use. This misperception not only obstructs the avenues available to women and girls in seeking help and support to overcome their addiction, but it also conceals the warning signs and symptoms that girls and women show.

Access to quality education in a safe, child-friendly environment in Gaza is compromised by the protracted occupation and recurrent conflict. The main challenges for school children and youth are lack of access to quality schooling, safe child-friendly learning environments in existing schools, and educational materials. This has led many students and parents to give up on education. For males, some families prefer that they leave school to work and help the family in meeting its expenses. For females, some parents might opt to marry off their young daughters at an early age to save expenses and have less worry about their commute to school and the risks that might face them in relation to personal security on the road to school.

Timely access to information on cancer-related services and diagnosis can save lives. Due to the stigma that is sometimes associated with breast cancer, many women cancer survivors in Gaza tried to hide their illness from their family, including children, husband, and parents, until the disease advanced into severe stages. This shows that gender should also be taken into account in the design of all phases of cancer related health services including public awareness.

Through the following six case studies, this document seeks to demonstrate how every humanitarian situation has gendered impacts on men, women, boys and girls. To save lives, build resilience and leave no one behind, it is imperative for all humanitarian actors to fully integrate gender in the design, planning, implementing and monitoring of their interventions.