When the ward of hoodlums moved into their ward, they expelled everyone who was there before them. They also refused to allow people from other wards to use their restrooms. In addition to all this, they were stockpiling the food, meaning that they preferred to allow the food to rot than to let people have it without paying.
Often, when a group from a different ward was sent to pick up their food, people suggested some group action on the basis that they could overwhelm the ward of hooligans through pure numerical superiority. This never came to pass, though, for a few reasons. Firstly, no one wanted to be on the front line, sure as they were that they would be the first to be shot. Secondly, more measured action was decided against because any ward that complained or caused problems was punished collectively with smaller rations. The punished ward, in turn, punished whichever member was the vocal plaintiff.
Things had reached this impasse, when the ward of hoodlums put out a message demanding more payment, since they had already been too generous in their distribution of food. The other wards, in turn, pointed out that they had no more goods to trade, since they were entirely cleaned out. The ward of hoodlums, then decided that they would accept payment in the form of women. Each ward, if it wanted to eat, would send their women to the ward of hoodlums on a rotating basis to be prostituted in trade for food.
After much debate, the women decide to comply – against their will and the will of their husbands they decide that they collective good is more important. When their turn comes, the women of the first ward go the ward of hoodlums and the man with the gun recognizes the voice of the doctor's wife and takes her for himself. They are all raped. After this horrible experience, the women are shambling back to their ward when one of their number drops dead. The women carry her corpse back to the ward where the doctor's wife, done pretending for now that she is blind, washes all of the women including the deceased.
At this point, the man with the gun's regime, which was brutal but efficient, turns an ugly corner. While the fact that he would turn to such a system can be considered an indictment of his personal morals, it is more fruitful to think of it in terms of an outgrowth of the novel's general stance towards human nature. Any benefits that come to the majority through government are merely incidental; governments (even informal ones like the quarantine) are established to serve those who rule. An organization, in short, cannot be more than the sum of its parts, who are all flawed human beings.
The decision on the part of the women to fulfill the demands of the man with the gun brings to light an interesting point. There are two ways to read this decision. The first is that it is a capitulation to simple reality: they have to eat to survive and to eat they must have sex with the men in the ward of hoodlums. It is also possible to read this as an act of solidarity among the women, to go instead of being taken, even if that means violating their personal wishes. This is supported by the the actions of the wife of the first blind man who is ordered not to go by her husband, but who goes anyway in solidarity with the rest of the women of the ward.
After the horrible experience of that the women undergo, not only the rape but the death of one of their ward-mates, the bathing, which takes on an almost ritual tone, is metaphorical for being cleansed of their recent experience. But this act is not purely metaphorical. Factually, we might consider an aversion to living in filth something that is peculiar to humanity. Thus the bathing of the women is to affirm that they are still human even in the face of such inhumanity.
We can see that the blindness of the internees has made even the most inhuman and cruel of social organizations not only feasible but desirable. It is worth noting again that many of the men of the ward show no real resistance to the price for food imposed by the man with the gun. Seen allegorically, this can be seen as a metaphor for the desire for ease and the lack of concern for others that characterizes the unreason or ignorance at the heart of all autocracies. It is not only the tyrant who is to blame, but also the ignorance of the citizens who are willing to take on this form of government.