Mother's Day this year is a time for reflection

That too many mothers in Gaza are overwhelmed by war should encourage renewed determination to end the conflict and support those who are suffering

A Palestinian mother carries her baby along Gaza's Al Rashid road. About 9,000 women have been killed by Israel forces in the war so far, with an estimated 37 mothers dying every day, according the the UN. EPA
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Today is Mother’s Day across the Arab world, and for many families in the region it is a moment of celebration and appreciation. The love and gratitude felt on this day lends itself to poetry and song, and a powerful example of this is Ummi Ya Malaki, a sentimental tribute to mothers everywhere by Lebanese writer and philosopher Said Akl that was famously adapted for music and sung by renowned chanteuse and fellow Lebanese, Fairuz.

The song particularly celebrates a mother’s power to comfort a distressed child: “My mother, you are a flower whose fragrance I lose myself in/And when I say 'Mother', I feel like I'm flying/Like the wings of a nightingale, lifting me above my worries/Oh my mother, the beating of my heart, my call when I'm in pain.”

In war zones, however, a very different atmosphere prevails. Too many Palestinian mothers, overwhelmed by almost six months of catastrophic warfare in Gaza, are struggling to answer that call of a child in pain. Gaza has become a byword for suffering, and it is particularly harrowing that women – many of them mothers – are paying a disproportionate price for Israel’s war on the Palestinian enclave. According to UN Women, about 9,000 Palestinian women have been killed by Israeli forces since October, with an estimated 37 mothers losing their lives every day.

The National has reported extensively on the specific plight facing Palestinian mothers trapped by bombardment and blockade. Many have shared terrible tales of loss and struggle. These include Hanan, 50, who described her fight to take care of her five daughters and three sons without her husband of 25 years after an Israeli air strike on October 16 abruptly made her a lone parent. Sadly, her story is not unique; the UN has estimated that more than 3,000 women in Gaza have “become widows, and possibly new heads of households, following their male partner's death”. A UN report in January said at least 10,000 children were estimated to have lost their fathers.

War’s effects on women are specific and brutal. Tragically, those effects are felt in numerous Arab countries, including Sudan, Yemen and Syria. Women who lose male family members often face economic strife, and a daily struggle to provide food and shelter for themselves and their children. Women in conflict zones are more vulnerable to violence, exploitation and displacement. They are also disproportionately affected by the destruction of healthcare systems, such as that seen in Gaza.

Society is worse off for such suffering; women frequently play a pivotal role in community life and their deaths are a destabilising loss that makes it harder to rebuild. Gaza is an acute example of the toll war takes on women, but it is not an isolated one; in October last year, the UN revealed that more than 600 million women and girls lived in conflict-affected countries in 2022, a 50 per cent increase since 2017.

The challenges faced by mothers, both in wartime and after it, require thoughtful responses that meet their immediate and long-term needs. An example of this response is a Dh1 billion ($272.2 million) education fund called the Mothers' Endowment campaign that was recently launched in the UAE by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives.

It may seem incongruous to speak of celebrating Mother’s Day in circumstances where some mothers are living in extreme danger. This is understandable, but a characteristic of the day in the Arab world is that it arrives at the start of spring, a time of renewal and rebirth. The violence we are currently witnessing must make Mother’s Day a time for reflection and renewed determination to support those who are suffering and end the war.

Published: March 21, 2024, 3:00 AM