MADRE: Human rights and health work in Gaza and Palestine
By Cathleen O’Grady
Following escalating attacks and tension, November saw devastating fire between Israel and Gaza, killing an estimated 160 people in Gaza and five in Israel, with many more injured. A tenuous ceasefire has emerged, but has left many families devastated and grieving. MADRE, our current Human Rights beneficiary, has added its voice to the many Israeli and Gaza organizations calling for negotiations to end the violence and ensure justice for those living without essential infrastructure and basic rights, such as water and medical care. MADRE has launched a campaign to bring aid to those in Gaza who have no other source of help.
In addition to their response to the recent crisis, MADRE has a long-term presence in the region with its innovative Midwives for Peace program. This is a group of Israeli and Palestinian midwives dedicated to reducing the impact of the conflict on women, and in particular on reproductive health. Because of the 528 barricades and checkpoints in the West Bank and Gaza, and the common practice of detaining ambulances at checkpoints, many women are unable to reach hospitals in time after beginning labor. These movement restrictions not only force women to give birth in unsafe conditions, resulting in increased mother and infant mortality, but also limit access to prenatal care.
Midwives for Peace works to train midwives and improve standards of midwifery. They provide “safe delivery kits” to midwives working in crisis areas, ensure provision of postpartum education and counselling, and distribute information about family planning and reproductive health. With more trained and equipped midwives within communities, the necessity of undertaking dangerous journeys and the risks of giving birth in unsafe conditions are reduced.
Another MADRE partner, the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, aims to provide health care for the most vulnerable members of Palestinian society, including women, children, and the rural and urban poor, as well as those in refugee camps. Mobile health centers service those with restrictions on movement. The Zakher Association, run by women in Gaza, provides free health care and health workshops for women, as well as providing training in literacy, computer literacy, conflict resolution, early childhood development, and vocational skills such as embroidery. In conjunction with MADRE, the Zakher Association works to provide clean water in community centers and kindergartens in Gaza.