Why are combatant-aged men over-represented in Gaza casualty figures? A gender analysis could shed light on conflicting claims
Casualty numbers from conflict zones are notoriously difficult to gather and verify. According to a UN report, as of 10 August, 1,948 Palestinians have been killed, of which at least 1,402 were civilians. An analysis of these numbers by the New York Times found that “the population most likely to be militants, men ages 20 to 29, is also the most overrepresented in the death toll. They are 9% of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents, but 34% of those killed whose ages were provided.” Why are combatant-aged men so over-represented in Gaza’s casualty figures?
Assessing estimates on civilian versus combatant deaths requires understanding of civilian behavior on the ground. A potential explanation other than combatant roles could be that families expect young men to be the first ones to leave shelters in order to care for hurt relatives, gather information, look after abandoned family homes or arrange food and water, as I suggest in a comment to a background analysis by BBC News. Furthermore, one might expect males of combat age to be over-represented in civilian casualty figures because by definition they are seen as potential combatants.
More analysis is needed to discuss and verify these numbers. A gender perspective could shed light on why casualty numbers do not mirror demographic statistics.
For more information relating to the context of international humanitarian law, see also Human Rights Watch’s Q&A on the 2014 Hostilities between Israel and Hamas.