I am a woman living all my life here in Gaza, and I have lived through many crises. We have the Israeli occupation, the blockade and we have suffered three very hard military offensives in the last decade. But this experience of Coronavirus is such a unique experience for all of us.
COVID-19 has hit Gaza and we have now experienced the first cases of people dying due to this deadly virus. Restrictions and quarantine have so far been very effective in keeping the number of cases very low. However, once we started to ease restrictions, a second wave of infections has now hit with people arriving at the Egypt border. Thankfully the numbers are still small, but we still fear the impact for us if it spreads more widely.
In March, when they declared that Gaza had its initial first two cases of Coronavirus, people in Gaza were afraid. The authorities here in Gaza took many precautions. They closed the schools. They closed the universities. All organisations and institutions were closed.
Yet it is really hard in Gaza to quarantine people inside homes. The refugee camps in Gaza are incredibly crowded. Everyone is very, very close to each other and in the same building you find many large families sharing. This is one of the most densely populated places on earth.
Here in Gaza, we have been living under blockade for a long time. As a result, the health sector has almost collapsed, and there is a shortage of medical supplies and equipment. Many professional doctors have emigrated and left Gaza.
So it will be a disaster if Coronavirus spreads here. If there is a large outbreak in Gaza, thousands of people will die. So, we are all really, really worried.
It is a challenge for all of us to deal with this experience. I am forty-five years old, but I have never felt like this before, that all of the human community is facing the same crisis.
We all have the same fear and the same worries of what is going to happen. When will this end? What will happen to us?
Supporting women during the crisis
As in many other countries in the world, there are reports that violence against women has increased in Gaza during quarantine and lockdown.
We find that women pay an extra price during conflict and crisis, due to the traditional role women play. Even before COVID-19, the rates of violence against women was high in Gaza.
We also have a high rate of poverty in Gaza. There are few jobs, few salaries. The economic conditions are already so bad in Gaza and you can imagine how devastating it is for people’s jobs and lives when they have to close everything.
Women are losing their jobs, losing their work. Sometimes the rate of violence increases because without jobs, both the husband and wife are in the same place together under tense situations. Too often, this results in violence.
My organisation, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, supports women with legal aid and we have received many complaints from women of an increase in violence. Although we had to close our office, we continued to provide legal counselling and advice over the phone.
Trócaire supports us to provide legal assistance for women. This is a very important programme and during this crisis we continue providing legal aid for women. As well as consultation by telephone, some courts in Gaza have re-opened and we continue to represent women.
As well as our legal aid, with Trócaire’s support we are providing women in shelters, prisons and quarantine centres with emergency hygiene kits. These kits include soap, mask, gloves, cleaning products, hand sanitiser and female sanitary products.
Now we all experience isolation like Gaza
Gaza has been under isolation for 14 years. All the world now has experienced what it is like being isolated from the rest of the world. Maybe now, people can understand what isolation looks like, now you have this experience too.
As an organisation, we believe in defending the victims of the Israeli occupation. We believe in defending human rights and women’s rights. Our work is becoming more complicated due to COVID-19 and it is not easy.
We were working under very challenging circumstances before and now it is even more difficult. So, we need your support. Please don’t forget Gaza and stay with us because we will be stronger with your help.
I would really like to thank the people in Ireland for their support to us through Trócaire. I hope for everybody that this crisis will be over soon. For all of us, every human being.
My heart is with all the people of the world and especially in Ireland and I pray for you all to keep safe.
Mona Shawa is Head of the Women’s Rights Unit at the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza.