Palestinian women experience major poverty induced by loss of spouses, UN says

15 February 2005 –

Palestinian women are suffering massively from malnutrition, especially when they are pregnant and nursing, and have high rates of poverty as widowed heads of household, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a new report to a UN women's rights panel.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) says that during a home visit programme in the period under review, October 2003 to September 2004, "69.7 per cent of 1,768 expectant women, within one month of delivery, were found to be anaemic," Mr. Annan's report to the Economic and Social Council's (ECOSOC) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) says.

Israel's policy of restricting the movement of goods and persons "impacted greatly on food security, which led to a decline in both the quantity and quality of food of 73 per cent of the West Bank and Gaza populations, with four out of 10 households identified as chronically insecure" by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the report says.

Delaying pregnant women at Israeli checkpoints has resulted in "women delivering their babies while waiting to pass, which has led to maternal and infant deaths," it says. These delays also negatively affected women's access to family planning and obstetric care, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) says.

The Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People notes that the "the hardship of daily life was felt most acutely by Palestinian women who carried the burden of responsibility within the household because of the death, imprisonment, or unemployment of male members."

Between September 2000 and September 2004, more than 2,600 men died, as well as 650 children and 250 women, the Committee says.

The newly established Ministry of Women's Affairs in the Occupied Territory has been given a mandate to reinforce the gender mainstreaming strategy previously located in several ministries, to increase the proportion of women in the labour force from 11 per cent and to upgrade the political commitment to include gender, democracy and human rights issues in legislation and the policies and plans of the ministries.

"Community and family disapproval of women's work in the absence of male breadwinners are major obstacles to women seeking wage employment," the report says, citing the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Despite this obstacle, the office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) found that in 30 West Bank communities "women attempted to substitute for the loss of male income, even if that entailed travel and overnight stay outside the community."

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