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Call To Action: Ensuring Women and Children Receive Humane Medical Services for Vital Surgery

Amid the devastating aftermath of recent events in Gaza, Madeleine Rees, WILPF Secretary General passionately advocates for urgent humanitarian intervention. With over 25,000 lives lost in 15 weeks, 70% being women and children, the focus is on establishing a field hospital at the Rafah crossing. This call to action highlights the dire conditions, emphasising the need for international collaboration to ensure access to life-saving medical services. A plea is made for swift action to protect the most vulnerable in the face of irreparable harm.

Image credit: MAHMUD HAMS by Getty Images
Madeleine Rees
26 January 2024

There is something we can do to recover some of our humanity. In the midst of war, we forget too often that we have more in common than we choose to believe. Who cannot want to change the situation in Gaza?

Over the last 15 weeks, since the atrocities of 7th October, over 25,000 people have been killed, 70% of the casualties women and children. The scale of the suffering far exceeds any relief that is being provided but we have to start and we can make an initial impact by focusing on those who are most vulnerable. To achieve this: immediately establish a field hospital for injured children and pregnant women. This is the minimum we can do to uphold decency and humanity.

Every day 160 women deliver their babies in unsafe conditions, some in the streets. We know that emergency amputations are performed on children without anaesthetic, and that women needing caesarean sections with subsequent hysterectomies, also have to endure the process without analgesic.  There is no medication, no sanitation, and no vaccinations for the babies and children.  This harm is irreparable.

Israel says that it is acting in self-defence, but surely it cannot be argued that children, or women giving birth, are a threat.

Women giving birth and children are protected under international law, but beyond the clear obligations, it should not take legal dispute to expose the very obvious: immediate medical help must be given so that mothers can give birth safely and injured children can be operated on in minimum sanitary conditions inside Gaza.

How?

States have to use this opportunity to prevent further irreparable harm by ensuring that life-saving hospital services are accessible to women and children who need them. 

A simple solution

Establish a field hospital at the Rafah crossing specifically to provide medical aid for pregnancy and amputations. This could be funded and organised through the UN with its partners, including the newly established office of the UN’s senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza. Egypt and Israel should ensure supplies are able to pass freely into Gaza and maintain humanitarian corridors to and from the field hospital. Israel must commit to ensuring they will not perpetrate violence that could compromise the integrity of the process or the security and functioning of the hospital. Indeed, in its response at the ICJ, Israel assured the court that:

Israel is committed to working with agencies and States involved in the aid effort to overcome the hurdles and continue to increase the aid to the people of Gaza`…

It now has the opportunity to prove this claim: saving children, and newborns and their mothers. Our common humanity demands no less.

For more information:

Madeleine Rees, WILPF Secretary General: madeleine.rees@wilpf.org.

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Madeleine Rees

Madeleine Rees is a British lawyer and Secretary-General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), a role she has held since 2010. For most of her adult life, Rees has worked nationally and internationally to advance human rights, eliminate discrimination, and remove obstacles to justice. As Secretary-General of WILPF, Rees is leading the organisation’s efforts to work through national and international legal frameworks to advance a future of human security and justice for all.

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Melissa Torres

VICE-PRESIDENT

Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani

VICE-PRESIDENT

Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo

PRESIDENT

Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

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Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

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In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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