Palestinians face additional access barriers
As the world moved online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Palestinians also had to contend with another problem that limited their ability to reach people and provide them with sexual and reproductive health services. Decades of Israeli occupation of Palestine has resulted in a protracted humanitarian crisis, and the geographical restrictions for Palestinians, coupled with the political instability prevents people from visiting PFPPA’s service delivery points to seek services or information.
“In Palestine, those in the West Bank cannot come to Jerusalem and nobody [from outside] can go into Gaza,” explains Ammal. “There's also the Apartheid segregation wall, which isolates Palestinian communities.”
She adds that the app was specifically designed to bridge the gap between communities where the PFPPA does not have clinics or service delivery points.
“The app is a new approach in reaching people. Most of our work is in the central and southern region of Palestine, and we have a service delivery point in the Gaza Strip as well. But we can't reach there and nor can they reach us. So with this app, we can reach people and provide services to anywhere in the country.”
One of the health care workers responsible for the PFPPA Youth Programs is Mohammed Abu Areish.
“The vast majority of questions that we receive via the app are from women that are planning to use a family planning method for the first time,” he said. “The questions are usually related to their concerns of any changes to their bodies or side effects, especially as they had already heard many rumors and wanted to know if they were true or not.”
Mohammed and his colleagues also provide referrals to other resources or partner organizations, and he adds that the app is an important way to ensure privacy and confidentiality for clients.
“The app in my opinion is a great way for people to ask questions that they may not feel so comfortable asking face to face. A number of the questions that we receive are quite sensitive and I think that those contacting us are confident that we guarantee their anonymity, privacy and confidentiality.”
Youth in Palestine are encouraged and empowered in addressing SRHR issues, says Ammal. But, speaking about women's rights in general is still extremely challenging. Moving sexual and reproductive health services online to create a safe space where women and youth are empowered to ask questions is an important step towards equality.
“Little by little, it’s making a difference. For me, the app is successful as long as it’s reaching people that wouldn’t have otherwise been reached,” she said, adding: “I believe in leaving no one behind. This is really what the app is all about.”
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