We cannot stand by silently as the violence continues

The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation was founded 30 years ago, when the women’s peace movement in Sweden stated that they could not stand by silently while women were exposed to sexual violence and war crimes during the wars in Former Yugoslavia.

At the closure of 2023, sadly, we have to say the same.

The past few months will be remembered as a dark period in human history. Gaza has turned into a humanitarian nightmare where civilians—families with children—are trapped without any shelters, access to medicine, food or clean water. UN experts issued a warning a month ago, stating the risk of genocide and have been alarmed by the genocidal and dehumanising rhetoric expressed by leading Israeli Governments officials about Palestinian people, using phrases such as “children of darkness and human animals”. After more than 70 days, bombs keep falling with increased ferocity over Gaza, killing or injuring hundreds of children every day, according to WHO. What we are seeing is the deliberate destruction of an entire civilian population, their means of survival and their future.

The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s colleagues working in the context, and who are in contact with our partner organisations and women’s rights activist in Gaza, share desperate stories about the devastating situation for women and children. A situation which is deteriorating by the hour. 800 000 women have been displaced from their homes, often multiple times, and are now living in overcrowded facilities with very limited access to showers and toilets. There is little or no water to wash in, no soap, no menstrual hygiene products and no privacy. For decades, Palestinian women have lived under the destructive Israeli occupation causing systematic discrimination and violence—but what we are witnessing now goes beyond that. More than three women are killed every hour.

WHO estimates that around 50 000 pregnant women are expected to give birth in Gaza. This means that more than 180 women every day is being forced to deliver their babies in inhuman, degrading and extremely dangerous conditions. Since the health system has collapsed—due to the blockade of fuel, water and medicine as well as constant bombings—women are likely to give birth without anaesthesia or sanitary precautions. Israel is accused of using starvation as a weapon of war and of depriving civilians the means to survive. The lack of food has disproportionate effects on mothers who are breast feeding and has the responsibility to ensure that their families have food on the table. As in many conflicts, mothers provide food for their children before eating themselves.

Kvinna till Kvinna is also alarmed by the reports of sexual violence against Israeli women on October 7th and reports about sexual harassments, threats and violence reported by Palestinian women released from Israeli prisons. The brutality that women and girls always face during violent conflicts confirms the vulnerability of women and girls in wars. Sexual violence in conflict zones is a gross violation of human rights and recognized as a war crime under the International Criminal Court.

What we are witnessing is a human failure causing extreme suffering among people, damaging the trust in the international community and our common humanity. The international community cannot stand by and let the killings of civilians and destruction continue, it needs to step up and act, to ensure security and dignity for all people. Humanitarian aid must be allowed to enter unconditionally in accordance with international law to meet the needs of the civilians throughout Gaza. Since October only a trickle of the required aid has been let in.

Once more, we call for an immediate lasting ceasefire to be put in place. The violence must stop, the hostages be released and a full investigation into the violations of international humanitarian law must follow. To prevent and stop the circle of violence we need political leadership to address the root causes and finally put an end to the occupation.

2024 must be a turning point and offer a path to accountability, healing and peace.

—The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation

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