CARE, 16 November – As the misery further deepens in Gaza, with 2.2 million Palestinians facing hunger, thirst, and a healthcare system in tatters, CARE International is calling attention to the immense and long-lasting toll the conflict is having on mental health – especially among women and girls in Gaza.
“For the survivors, the emotional scars will last a lifetime,”said Hiba Tibi, CARE’s West Bank and Gaza Country Director.
“We know that women and girls are especially vulnerable during humanitarian emergencies, particularly when this triggers mass displacement and upheaval. Often it is more difficult and dangerous for them to access essentials like food, drinking water, and medical supplies. Already there are indications that people in the north are running out of food and people in the south have to skip meals. This is incredibly distressing for parents, and we know that many will forego food and water to lessen their children's suffering, putting their own well-being at greater risk,” added Tibi.
The horrific violence that has lasted for over five weeks has had a devastating impact on the emotional well-being of civilians. More than 11,000 people have reportedly been killed in Gaza, of which an estimated two-thirds are women and children.
Wounded child, no surviving family
“Women and children are subjected to increased levels of traumatic experiences, resulting in heightened feelings of fear, anxiety, grief, and anger. This is associated with the breakdown of social structures, family separation, and the disruption of support networks. This puts children, especially those without surviving family members, at higher risk of trafficking and forced recruitment,” said Nour Beydoun, CARE’s regional advisor on protection and gender in emergencies.
Due to the high number of children affected, the new term WCNSF – wounded child, no surviving family, has emerged in Gaza.
“It is particularly troubling. These children now face an uncertain and immensely difficult future. Children must be protected from further suffering. Children should be able to enjoy their childhood without fear for their safety, fear of hunger and drinking dirty water. Gender and age-appropriate mental health and psychosocial support must be provided urgently and sustained over the longer-term,” said Tibi.
700 people share one shower
Just over 75% of Gaza's population - some 1.7 million people - are registered refugees or descendants of refugees, according to the UN.
“Many women and children are living in overcrowded camps across the Gaza Strip. They have both inherited intergenerational trauma and already experienced trauma in their own lives,” said Tibi.
Over 1.5 million people in Gaza are reported to have been forced from their homes since October 7th. In shelters for internally displaced people in the south of Gaza, on average 160 people share a single toilet, with only one shower unit for every 700 people. This lack of access to sanitation facilities coupled with the lack of hygiene supplies exposes women and girls to diseases and skin infections and makes it very difficult to live with dignity.
Gaza’s only psychiatric hospital was also forced to close last week. “Exposure to armed conflict is often associated with an increased prevalence of anxiety disorders.
Exposure to armed conflict is often associated with an increased prevalence of anxiety disorders,said Beydoun.
"Working with communities to address the psychosocial effects of conflicts can be more effective when tailored to the gender and age-specific needs of affected individuals,” added Beydoun.
CARE has integrated this approach into its emergency response.
“We plan to work with health respondents and community volunteers to provide recreational activities to children, as well as training front-line respondents to link survivors with specialized service providers where available,” Beydoun said.
At this point, access to Gaza is extremely limited for both aid and health workers.
At CARE’s office in the West Bank, the team is struggling to keep in touch with colleagues in Gaza, while preparing aid, in cooperation with colleagues in CARE Egypt and other organizations, that can enter from Egypt as soon as feasible.
A ceasefire is vital to protect civilians, including women and children, and prevent further trauma. Access for humanitarian workers and supplies is critical. Time is running out to save lives in Gaza,said Tibi.
CARE's work in Gaza and the West Bank
CARE International has been operating in Gaza and the West Bank since 1948. It supports about 200,000 Palestinians in Gaza and about 300,000 in the West Bank to meet basic food needs, improve farming and agriculture, empower women to earn an income, support women’s leadership, and improve health programs focused on gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health, and children’s mental health.