Foreign Policy magazine published a report on the conditions of widows in… Gaza. She told harsh stories about the death of husbands and children, and the difficulties that widows face in supporting their children and their resilience despite grief and trauma.
Report author Neha Wadekar said in one story that as bombs fell on Gaza, Maryam Abu Akar managed to escape death twice. But her loved ones did not make it. Her 17-year-old daughter, Sarah, was killed when a bomb fell on their two-storey home on October 17, tearing the teenager's body in half.
In the wake of Sarah's death, Maryam (40 years old) relied on her husband, Salama, for support. Maryam said in an interview conducted at her husband’s family home in: Khan Younis“He helped me cope with the loss of my daughter. He told me everything would be better and that our daughter had gone to heaven.”
Suddenly Mary became a widow
Seven weeks later, Salama was talking to a neighbor when a bomb fell nearby, killing them both. In an instant, Maryam became a widow, the sole caregiver for their four remaining children.
Maryam is not alone. Thousands of women in Gaza have been widowed by war or left in charge of their families, and aid experts fear their worsening plight is being ignored in the humanitarian response.
“I don’t know how to face his absence and raise the children without him,” Maryam said with tears streaming down her pale cheeks. Sometimes, when the children make me angry, I tell them: “I will call your father.” Then I remember he's not here.”
Data from the United Nations Women in the Arab Countries show that more than 2,780 women in Gaza have become widows. With at least 85% of the Strip's 2.3 million people displaced and food, fuel, medicine and water scarce, these newly female-headed families are struggling to adapt, several humanitarian organizations said.
They are unable to support themselves and their families
The author said that these women are now unable to support themselves and their families, and lack access to organizations that can help them.
“Most of the burden will fall on women,” said Lucy Talege, head of the women’s program at the Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center, a civil society organization based in Bethlehem. “They have to be strong — to survive and help their children, and to start a new life, perhaps with a wounded husband who has become A disabled person, or perhaps a widow with 4 or 5 children to take care of.”
Since she got married at the age of 20, Maryam has been a housewife who has been financially dependent on her late husband, who earned about $9 a day from selling clothes in the market.
Maryam continues: “I used to depend on him to raise my children. He was our sole provider. I am not accustomed to bearing responsibility alone. I do not know how I will continue the path with my children.”
Grief and shock compound
For widows in Gaza, the grief and trauma of war is compounded by the challenge of suddenly becoming the sole breadwinner for their families, aid workers said.
Care International said that some mothers eat only once a day because they put their children’s health first, amid warnings. World Food Programme Increased incidence of drought and malnutrition.
“There is an increase in feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness, and anger, and in emergency situations, this is linked to the collapse of social structures, family separation, and the disruption of support networks,” said Nour Baydoun, Regional Advisor for Protection in Emergency Situations.
The report says that while many women's organizations in Gaza are struggling to continue operating, CARE International is working with community leaders and influential people to organize support networks and provide psychosocial support.
A reminder of normalcy
“Activities like these are reminders of normalcy and are crucial in helping to preserve and protect the human spirit,” said Sanam Anderlini, founder and CEO of the International Civil Society Action Network, an organization on women, peace and security. “I think Palestinians have learned and instinctively realized that preserving life Naturalness is in itself a form of resistance.”
For serious mental health issues, CARE tries to leverage existing healthcare infrastructure to refer people to psychiatrists and provide treatment. However, Gaza's only psychiatric hospital stopped operating in November after being damaged in an Israeli attack.
Anderlini and Talege noted that helping widows and female heads of household find work and earn money to support their families is a key way to protect women and children from turning to high-risk work as their only option. For example, the Palestinian Center for Conflict Resolution plans to help women join the workforce and develop their own money-making projects, as well as provide seed funding for small businesses.
They will find their way with the help of the community
“They will work on a small level, selling things at home, but they will find their way with the help of the community,” Talege said. “These women have to find ways to survive, and they will do it.”
One of these women, Widad Abu Jama, a mother of 6 children, lost her 45-year-old husband when Israeli soldiers shot and killed him when he went to his farm to check on his livestock and search for food for his family.
“I feel like I lost my life, not just my husband,” Abu Jama said, sitting in a crowded classroom of a school that is now being used as a UN shelter. Her children were gathered around her, crying from hunger and cold.
Abu Jamaa added, “I got married and lived with my husband for a very long time, and I grew up in his house. We worked together on our agricultural land. We spent long hours taking care of the crops. We built our lives together. Now I will go to the land without him. I will be alone among the crops.”