Palestinian women praised but restricted

March 9, 2017
Sarah Benton

Articles from Palestine Monitor; Haaretz, Amira Hass; and Ma’an news

Palestinian women dance the dabkeh, an ancient dance performed by women’s or men’s groups, originally to accompany work, now celebratory. Photo by Zann Huizhen Huang, Palestine Monitor

Palestinian women celebrate the fruits of their hard work at Women’s Day conference

By Zann Huizhen Huang, Palestine Monitor
March 08, 2017

Ramallah – As the world honours International Women’s Day on March 8, a conference held in Ramallah a day before celebrated Palestinian women’s contribution to their communities. The event brought together women from all walks of life as representatives of various organisations took to the stage and recounted their success stories. The conference was organised by the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) as part of the organisation’s gender strategy.

Palestinian women have come a long way in the resistance against the Israeli military occupation. As a staff member from PMRS said via Skype from Gaza: “I’m nothing but a Palestinian woman who knows how to sacrifice, a hard working woman, who has the honour to carry the Palestinian burden on her chest.”

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, co-founder of PMRS and secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, also highlighted this important facet of Palestinian women’s life as they are very often subjected to both physical and psychological pain while living under Israeli occupation. His speech opened by paying tribute to women who have been victims of imprisonment, injury and even death.

Moreover, some of them have to endure the anguish of being the mothers of “martyrs” or widows.

“Palestinian women are pillars of resistance,” said Palestine’s Minister of Women’s Affairs Haifa Al-Agha.

Dr Khadija Jarrar, director of the Women’s Health programme, gave the conference’s opening speech, followed by Ms Ann-Sofie Nilsson, Consul General of Sweden, who emphasised the importance of gender equality. She highlighted how it can be achieved through the 3 ‘R’s – rights, resources and representation.

The fruits of PMRS’ labour were recounted by various representatives from different villages in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A woman from Jeeb Aldeeb outlined the achievements in her village, citing a solar panel project, school buses for children and a stationery shop as examples of progress. She also acknowledged the personal achievements of some residents, including a hairstylist who was able to train abroad, and a DJ.

Sanaa from Rummaneh, a Palestinian village located near Jenin in Northern West Bank, lamented how difficult it is to build homes and cultivate land in her village, which lies in Area C. Plagued by frequent military drills and shootings by Israeli forces, Sanaa related how hard it was for women to go out before the opening of a women’s club there.

“I see men as companions because they’re also pushing for women’s rights,” added Sanaa. “My husband plays a great role in sending me outside so that I can be trained.”

Asmahan from the village of Barta’a, located in the “seam zone” created by the apartheid wall and straddling both sides of the Green Line, described the daily suffering of its 5,000 inhabitants.

“At the gate [of the checkpoint] we pass in and out every day, there are portals emitting laser and this is forbidden, even in airports it’s not allowed. Here it causes great problems for pregnant women. Some had to get abortions. 20% of our dead are from cancer,” Asmahan said.

A male speaker, Malek Bashir, a paramedic from Al Ram, hinted at how deeply entrenched cultural norms can be an impediment to realising gender equality in Palestinian society.

“I’m going to be honest. Three years ago, I could not talk to women because our culture prevents us from talking to women, we were afraid. So with PMRS we decided to break this barrier,” Malek said.

Malek spoke of the reactions of Al Ram residents when they first saw a boy and a girl, each with a brush in their hands, fixing and painting the sidewalk.

“They first looked at us like we’re crazy. After they saw the results on the sidewalk, they thanked us. From there, we keep our motto: equality, equality, equality! Now we have 90 volunteers and we are stronger than ever.”

In fact the role of men cannot be under-estimated in the quest to attain gender equality. The story of Dana Abu Jarar from An Nabi in Tulkarem Governorate, was to many an inspiration. Bound to a wheelchair, she’s been paralysed since the age of two. She’s now the head of a rehabilitation programme. Through her mother’s dedication, she managed to attend school, work and even learn to drive. Dana said,

“I bought a car because my job made me financially independent. I’m married and I have four children. I thank my husband for supporting me. I travelled to be trained in Lebanon, Egypt… I even ran as a political candidate once! And today I give all the trainings I can.”

The conference concluded with a feisty Dabkeh dance which enthralled the audience as the spirit of Palestine filled the air.

Maha Abu Sidu, Suha Khader and Maha al-Masri. Photos from Gisha

Glass Ceiling? Women in Gaza Are Facing Concrete

For International Women’s Day, women playing leading roles in Gaza’s economy talk about the challenges they face, from societal conservatism to Israel’s limitations on movement.

By Amira Hass, Haaretz premium
March 08, 2017

Suha Khader from Jabalia is the manager of the Al-Quds Bank in the Gaza Strip. She is the only woman who is a regional bank manager, not only in Gaza but in all the territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

The bank’s nine branches employ 122 people, including 30 women. Her climb to the top, from a clerk at the customer service department in the Palestine Bank in 1994, through management positions in various financial institutions, is definitely not typical for Palestinian women, particularly not in the Gaza Strip.

The rate of Palestinian women in the workforce is still very low, standing at 19 percent, in contrast to 71 percent for men. The rate for women in Gaza is only 14 percent, lower than in the West Bank.

The number of Gaza women seeking work is growing (from 9.1 percent of able women in 2005 to 21.7 percent in 2016). This rise is occurring at a time in which jobs are harder to find, due in part to Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, after which Gazans were prohibited from working in Israel.


Jobs are also much harder to find due to drastic travel restrictions which Israel imposed in 2007. And yet, women work not only in traditional jobs such as teaching, nursing and non-government organizations in Gaza, but also in high-tech and the business sector.

Gazan society, Khader told Haaretz over the phone, is unaccustomed to seeing women in managerial roles. Without the support of her husband and father, she believes, she would have found it difficult to overcome societal conservatism.

She started working in a favourable period: Right after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority new business opportunities opened up and the wish to be independent somehow merged with the ethos of integrating women into the workforce.

Sometimes all you need is a few women with “luck,” such as her, ones who shatter a social glass ceiling. The problem is that women in Gaza have more than a glass ceiling that they have to shatter.

The total dependence on indecipherable and opaque caprices of the mechanisms which regulate travel restrictions to Israel dictates any initiative. In honour of International Women’s Day today, The Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement published a collection of conversations with women who play leading roles in Gaza’s economy but who are blocked by what the report terms a “concrete ceiling.”

The usual reports in Israel of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza give the impression of a population that is passively seeking welfare. This depiction irks Gazans.

All their initiatives, creativity, improvisations and ability to contend with exceptional hardships are lost in the routine descriptions of Gaza only as a scene of a perennial disaster. The Gisha document seeks to correct this impression.

One of the women interviewed for this document was Maha al-Masri, who runs a non-profit group that promotes women working in agriculture. “The unrealized potential in Gaza is high. There are copious skills, motivation and leadership there. What women need most is experience, gained by training in areas such as agriculture,” she says.

However, as you may hear from women taking part in a demonstration by women’s groups in Gaza in celebration of Women’s Day, held in front of the legislative council building – without restoring the freedom of movement to Gazans no real progress is possible, not for society in general or for women in particular.

Khader was the only woman taking part in a meeting between Gazan bank managers and representatives of the Coordination and Liaison Administration at the Erez border checkpoint.

The meeting took place a month ago at the initiative of the administration (which is subordinate to the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories at the defence ministry), Khader told Haaretz.

“They wanted to know what problems we faced, they talked about easing restrictions and exit permits, promising to deal with requests rapidly. So what came of it? I’ve been waiting for an exit permit for a month. They leave me hanging, without saying yes or no.”

For many years her roles in financial institutions enabled her to obtain exit permits which were always renewed. Suddenly, in 2016, just after she became a bank manager, her request for a permit was not immediately granted. After 45 days she was told that she was barred from exiting for one year. Why?

The Shin Bet spokesman replied to a Haaretz query in August 2016, saying that “the request was considered but due to some security concerns it was decided to deny it.” This week Khader said that since August she had after all managed to leave for meetings in the West Bank on two occasions. Now she’s been waiting for a month for a renewal of her permit.

She thus misses regular meetings with the bank’s general management and with other employees. Her ability to consult and influence strategic planning and participate in discussions about various budgetary issues is thereby diminished.

The situation of Dr Riham al-Wahidi is even worse. She is the founder and co-director of a consulting agency for companies and organizations. According to the criteria of the Coordinator of Civilian Activities her company and al-Wahidi herself are barred from submitting a request to obtain a merchant’s permit since they don’t deal directly in exports or imports.

But as al-Wahidi says: “In the consultation business our products are our skills in business-oriented thinking. Developing our skills and experience depend on obtaining work and on meeting people, new markets, new business areas. The ability of our company to thrive and adapt to market developments without the opportunity to meet and study these opportunities is almost impossible.”

In negotiations with potential clients, instead of discussing the company’s quality of work they discuss the client’s ability to guarantee exit permits for employees. The likelihood that these will be denied makes the company turn down many job offers. This limits the number of employees they can hire, including women, since al-Wahidi is committed to hiring at least 50 percent women as part of her staff.

Maha al-Masri encounters the wall that blocks initiatives and livelihood opportunities through the hundreds of women in rural areas who have come to the non-profit group she manages.

The last war ravaged these areas. This is one of the direct causes for the drop in the rate of women working in agriculture, from 26.7 percent in the second quarter of 2014 to 2.8 percent in 2016. In addition to the initiative to reconstitute agriculture in six areas, the non-profit group for advancing village women encourages them to develop small business projects at home.

The group, which includes eight female and two male employees gives women assistance and technical advice, as well as raw materials such as seeds for home vegetable gardens and for raising rabbits and chickens, as well as providing training in hairdressing or in running a grocery. The fact that these projects operate from home makes it easier to overcome societal opposition to women working outside the home.

“All the borders are closed. When they were open the men would go to work in Israel or find work here. Then women didn’t have to work” she says. Another possible project is selling home-cooked food, baked products or honey. But the Gaza market is too small. The time and cost of shipping preclude women from even considering selling their wares in Israel or the West Bank.

“Today there are more young women going to university and looking for jobs. The frustration among these women is great when they don’t find any – it’s much greater than when I was their age 25 years ago.”

Maha Abu Sidu, 35, started a small project seven years ago, involving the internet marketing of embroidered items. This bypasses the closure, enabling several women to try and sell their handicrafts outside the Gaza Strip. Their products include jewellery and foods.

Abu Sidu orders raw materials from Jordan. She finds West Bank merchants going there and asks them to pick up her orders on their way back. She then finds businessmen who can travel between Gaza and the West Bank, asking them to bring her the cloth and thread. In this circuitous and time-consuming manner she also sends her finished products overseas. Last year, after Israel suspended the exit permits of hundreds of merchants, the importing of raw materials and exporting of final products became much more difficult.

Abu Sidu currently employs 50 women who embroider for her, and for whom this is the only source of income. Her requests for exit permits to the West Bank or Qatar – where she has most of her clients – have been denied.

She took part in a training course in Gaza, geared to women who manage independent businesses. The course was supposed to include a visit to Ashdod port in Israel. Fifteen women in the course asked for a permit and all were denied.

Last year, Abu Sidu left the Strip for the first time in her life. The Palestine Bank and USAID submitted a request on her behalf so that she could attend a special programme for businesswomen in Ramallah. Since then she has been denied an exit permit repeatedly. “I still wonder – if they approved my travel once why can’t they do so again?”

PCBS data reveals growing rate of Palestinian women in workforce despite challenges

By Ma’an news
March 08/ 09, 2017

BETHLEHEM — The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) marked International Women’s Day with a press release revealing persisting yet improving disparities between Palestinian women and men in the workplace in the occupied territory.

Despite representing roughly half of the total population of 4.88 million in the occupied Palestinian territory, the 2.4 million women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip represented 19.3 percent of the workforce in 2016, however marking a wide improvement from just 10.3 percent in 2001.

Unemployment among Palestinian women was almost exactly twice as high than that off men — 44.7 percent and 22.2 percent, respectively.

About half the women — 50.6 percent — with 13 years of schooling and above were unemployed.

The average daily wage for women was 83.30 shekels ($22.6) compared to 114.10 ($30.96) for men, representing a wage gap of 27 percent.

PCBS statistics also found that the transition for Palestinian graduates aged 15 to 29 into the labour market widely favoured males.

Data showed that the rate of females in that age group who successfully moved from school to the labour market was only 6.6 percent compared to 44.8 percent of the males.

Palestinian women also represented a disproportionately low share of public life relative to their share of the population. In 2015, 17.2 percent of judges, 22.5 percent of registered lawyers, 16.7 of members of the public prosecution staff, and 21.1 percent of registered engineers were women.

However, women represented nearly half of the public sector posts at 42.6 percent.

Only 11.7 percent of Palestinian directors general in the civil sector across the occupied territory were women, and 23.2 percent of the members of the West Bank university student council were women.

In 2015, 20.3 percent of females married before 18 years old, compared to 1.1 percent of males.

Gender disparities in the workplace were also corroborated by higher prevalence of early marriage among women and girls compared to males — in 2015, 20.3 percent of females married before 18 years old, compared to 1.1 percent of males.

Married women represented 62.3 percent of the total female Palestinian population aged 18 and above in 2016. Some 26.4 percent had never been married, 6.6 percent were widows, 2.7 percent were engaged for the first time, and 2 percent were divorced.

In spite of gender inequalities in the workforce however, literacy rates among Palestinian women have continued to rise over the past decade — reaching 95.2 percent in 2016, though they were still higher among men at 98.6 percent.

Meanwhile, the enrolment rate for Palestinian girls in high schools exceeded that of boys. PCBS data showed that male enrolment in high schools was 58.7 percent, compared to female enrolment which stood at 78.6 percent for the year 2015-2016.

In a written statement issued on Wednesday, PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi highlighted the importance of laws and legal systems that demand equality and justice for women.

“We have to ensure that our Palestinians laws are all consistent with our obligations as per international treaties and conventions, including in the UN Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (2000). It is incumbent upon the Palestinian leadership to ensure the implementation of these laws in all different spheres, to hold to account all those who violate them and to stand up to the abuse of religion and traditions to justify injustice against women or any attempt to marginalize or deprive them of their right to self-determination.”

Ashrawi went on to stress that “Palestinian women continue to suffer severe psychological, physical and emotional abuse and endure grave acts of oppression, violence and hardship at the hands of Israel and its unbridled violations,” and highlighted the struggle of Palestinian women incarcerated by Israel as political prisoners.

© Copyright JFJFP 2017