Women in Gaza and Sudan within the framework of international humanitarian law

Name: Hana Ashraf Ahmed Elhessy

Introduction:

International Humanitarian Law grants women in times of conflict general protection, as they are civilians and special protection as the law takes into consideration the fact that women in particular may be vulnerable to certain types of violence, this need for special protection focuses on the needs of women as mothers, and the need to protect them from sexual violence in particular.

At other times, during internal unrest and tensions, women’s rights are protected under International Law through numerous treaties, beginning with the Human Rights Conventions, which seek to ensure equal rights for women by prohibiting all forms of discrimination, including those based on sexual attacks, and by establishing mechanisms to monitor and condemn such actions.

The research question of this paper is determined as follows “How does International Humanitarian Law protect women in case of war and armed conflicts?”.

Provisions of International Humanitarian Law:

What does International Humanitarian Law say about the protection of women covering the armed conflicts?

If  women are exposed to many of the dramatic events of armed conflict, this is not due to any deficiency in the rules that provide for their protection, but rather because the laws are not respected, IHL provides women with a wide scope of protection, there are more than 560 articles in the Geneva conventions of 1949 and their additional protocols of 1977 that provide for the protection of women and men as civilians , or as combatants who have fallen into the hands of enemies whether prisoners, sick or wounded ,  some of these 560 articles protect women, more than 40 of these articles specifically relate to women.

International Humanitarian Law guarantees women general and special protection, women enjoy the same protection as men whether as combatants as civilians or as persons no longer involved in combat, the general protection guaranteed by IHL is based specifically by stipulating how this general obligation is to be applied in practice, these provisions provide additional protection for women in view of their medical and physiological needs on the principle of non-discrimination.

The Fourth Geneva Convention, in its articles 16, 17, 18, and 19, stipulated the obligation to provide special protection and respect for the wounded, sick, infirm, and pregnant women, and to approve the necessary arrangements for their transfer from besieged or encircled areas, there is no causes may civilian hospitals to be attacked, and the parties to the conflict must respect and protect them at all times, article twenty-seven also stipulates the right to respect for honor, religious beliefs, customs, and traditions, and the right of women to be protected in particular against attacks on their honor, especially rape, forced prostitution, or any other violation of their sanctity.

Women’s status in Gaza and Sudan:

Gaza’s case:

The United Nations presented a report on the conditions of women in Gaza, the report stated that the attack on the dignity and rights of Palestinian women has taken “new and terrifying dimensions” since October 7, 2023 with thousands of them becoming victims of the unfolding war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide”

The report indicated that, as of November 3, an estimated 67% of those killed in Gaza were women and children, including female journalists, medical staff, United Nations employees, and members of civil society organizations, although all women and girls have suffered from this conflict, the impact has been particularly devastating for mothers, many of whose children have been killed, maimed, seriously injured or whose whereabouts are still unknown.

Reports issued by the World Health Organization and United Nations agencies also indicated that there had been 117 attacks on health infrastructure in Gaza since October 7, which led to half of Gaza’s hospitals being out of service and 64% of primary health care centers closed, according to reports, an estimated 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza are expected to give birth in increasingly miserable conditions, resulting in more than 183 women per day being forced to give birth in Inhuman, degrading, cruel and dangerous conditions, pregnant women face the possibility of giving birth without anesthesia, health precautions, or surgical intervention if necessary, as fuel, medicines, water, and hospital supplies rapidly diminish or run out.

Another aspect of the suffering experienced by women in Gaza is the hard working conditions during the war, with Gaza cut off from the world as a result of repeated Internet shutdowns, female journalists were an important part of the media work, which claimed the lives of many of them, especially with the occupation forces targeting their homes, since the beginning of the Israeli aggression, the number of journalist victims has reached 62 martyrs, including 6 female journalists, the last of whom were journalists Alaa Taher Al-Hasanat and Ayat Khadura, after their homes in the Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip and the Beit Lahia area in the north were targeted.

While everyone in Gaza shares the basic concerns of the lack of a safe place and the scarcity of food and water, in addition to that, women there carry an additional burden that increases their burden, at least 5 days out of every month, which is the lack of sanitary pads, because women know what they are suffering from, social media pioneers began talking about what women do during their menstrual cycle during the war, and the continuous posting on social media prompted the organizations  to focus on sanitary pads in aid convoys to Gaza.

Sudan’s case:

Since the outbreak of the conflict in Sudan, women have been subjected to sexual violence while the institutions of women’s initiatives reveal crimes of kidnapping, murder, and rape” against Sudanese women.

Before the outbreak of fighting, more than 3 million women and girls in Sudan were “at risk of gender-based violence,” and this number rose after the outbreak of fighting to an estimated 4.2 million, according to the United Nations, since the start of the fighting, the United Nations Human Rights Office in Sudan has received documented reports of 21 conflict-related incidents of sexual violence against at least 57 women and girls, according to a UNICEF report issued on July 5,there are no accurate statistics that reveal the extent of the violations to which Sudanese women are exposed during times of fighting, but the institutions of some women’s initiatives reveal some of the features and forms of these ongoing violations, and also women’s initiatives refers to the exploitation of women and there is some talks about selling them as slaves in some markets, and kidnapping others and demanding ransom in exchange for their release.

Reports indicate one incident of up to 20 women being raped in a single attack, and at least 42 cases of alleged violence were documented in Khartoum and another 46 cases in the Darfur region, the government’s anti-violence against women and children unit, said it had documented 49 cases during the first two weeks of fighting, 24 of them in Khartoum and 25 in Darfur, and the real number of cases is “much higher,” but many women find it difficult to report “sexual violence” for fear of shame, fear of revenge, and societal perception.

The international efforts:

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the United Nations Population Fund and the World Health Organization warn that women, children and newborns in Gaza are disproportionately bearing the consequences of the escalation of hostilities in the occupied Palestinian territory, whether in terms of their percentage of victims or in terms of their diminished opportunities to obtain health services.

Despite the lack of sustainable and safe access, UN agencies have sent life-saving medicines and equipment to Gaza, including supplies for newborns and reproductive health care, however more is needed to meet the significant needs of civilians, including pregnant women, children and newborns, the organizations refers to that all parties to the conflict must adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including health-care facilities, all civilians including hostages currently held in Gaza  have the right to access health care, all hostages must be released without delay or conditions, all parties must in particular protect women from harm and give them the special protection to which they are entitled under international humanitarian and human rights law.

United Nations officials said that the risk of sexual violence increases, especially when girls and women move in search of safer areas, stressing that “there is an urgent need to increase assistance in sites receiving displaced persons and refugees in the affected areas in Sudan, as well as in neighboring countries, United Nations organizations are working to reach survivors, UNFPA provides gender-based violence case management and essential sexual and reproductive health care, the Fund also supports the provision of safe spaces for women and girls.

The Fund works in cooperation with the World Health Organization and other partners to ensure access to emergency medical supplies, in turn, UNHCR provides services to survivors that include medical, psychological and social support, United Nations officials warned in their statement that “helping women and girls on a large scale requires generous support from donors.” They noted that the revised humanitarian response plan for Sudan called for providing support amounting to $63 million for prevention and response services for survivors of gender-based violence in Sudan.

At the end, with all the international laws and treaties that confirm the protection of women’s rights around the world and guarantee a secure future for them, However, we do not find an audible echo of these laws in the reality that Palestinian and Sudanese women live in, This is because these laws lack implementation and accountability mechanisms regarding all humanitarian violations committed against Palestinian women by the Israeli occupation forces, in addition to double standards and the failure of the international community to achieve justice, provide protection, and respect human rights.

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