As the war in Gaza continues relentlessly, albeit with unequal means, the innumerable articles that have appeared have not sufficiently considered all the women’s rights issues at stake here.

One of the most under-reported dramas (indirectly linked to this war) was mentioned in a report by an laudable organization called ‘Midwives for Peace’ which brings together 24 Israeli and Palestinian midwives. www.isiswomen.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1708%3Apalestine-israel-midwives-for-peace&catid=22&Itemid=229

A far too brief paragraph states that Ambulances are regularly detained by soldiers at checkpoints. As a result, dozens of Palestinian women have been forced to give birth at Israeli military checkpoints, resulting in the deaths of 20 women and 36 infants. No explanation given for the figures, but in view of the fact that the sole reference  a UNFPA editorial dates from 2007, it is probable that these deaths have not been factored in. Nor has the incomparable torture that giving birth in such conditions represents.

There are about 500 (fixed and flying) checkpoints and road-blocks manned by the IDF in the West Bank alone. It’s not the same in Gaza where the Erez crossing, a long tunnel links the strip to Israel, but nevertheless, the problem here remains in an expanded version.

How many women went into labour whilst the IDF pounded their homes? How many died because they could n’t make to the hospital? How many women and infants will be permanently handicapped as result of this unspeakable ordeal? Who knows, indeed who cares?

Pregnant women are considered collateral damage in every war. At least as bad and surely even worse is the situation in neighbouring countries, practically ignored as the world obsesses about Israel and Gaza.  Who has reported giving birth in present day Iraq and Syria, in the refugee camps in Lebanon? Who remembers that pregnant women in Aleppo (and not only) are particularly targeted by snipers? Amongst those 50 000 Yazidi, Iraq’s ancient and long-persecuted religious minority   encircled by the Islamic State  jihadi extremists  (ISIS) on a rugged mountain, along with many thousands Christians, how many pregnant women, how many of them went into labour and had to lie there on the roadside as the others fled by in terror of their lives?

These hapless victims never make the statistics, barely considered worthy material for reports and articles (just Google ‘pregnant women’ + any of the countries mentioned above). There is a long history to this indifference and an equally remarkable ubiquity. The fate of pregnant women in Afghanistan, Waziristan, South Sudan, Mali, Niger, Central African Republic, Boko Haram occupied Nigeria, Ukraine, Libya is barely known or even monitored.

Yet surely in this day and age, when every kind of social, ethnic, gender, political community is clamouring for recognition and respect, it is urgent that we campaign for the unalienable rights of pregnant women to be recognized by international law in conflict zones. And that anybody or any institution impeding them from accessing help be considered guilty of a crime against humanity, as defined by the International Criminal Court (1998 and 2002) , with a specific clause added to this effect.

This is not “just” a feminist and women’s rights situation. This is a major and supremely pressing human rights issue.

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