World Bank report on Checkpoints and Barriers: Gender dimensions of economic collapse

March 17, 2010

worldbankrpt_1002Executive summary of new World bank report

Checkpoints and Barriers: Searching for Livelihoods in the West Bank and Gaza. Gender Dimensions of Economic Collapse, February 2010

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An important dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and one that has been extensively  documented, concerns Israel’s control over the movement of Palestinian people, goods,  and resources. Since 1967, control over Palestinian movement has relaxed and tightened,  following in part the ebb and flow of the conflict. Over time, however, the apparatus of  control itself has gradually become more sophisticated and effective in its ability to interfere  in and affect every aspect of Palestinian life, including job opportunities, work, and earnings.  Extensive and multilayered, the apparatus of control includes a permit system, physical  obstacles known as closures, restricted roads, prohibitions on entering large areas of land in  the West Bank, and most notably the Separation Barrier. It has turned the West Bank into  a fragmented set of social and economic islands or enclaves cut off from one another. It  has surrounded Gaza with a perimeter fence with heavily controlled crossings. This report  assesses the impact of the movement and access regime in the period 2000–07 on the  economy and the working lives of Palestinians, exploring the gender dimension of restrictions  on labor force participation, and how new tensions in the arena of work resulting from  movement and access restrictions have affected relations between women and men. The  findings of this study are based on an analysis of data covering the years 2000 to 2007 and  examine the long-term impacts of restrictions on movement and access.

As controls on movement became more entrenched following the second intifada (2000),  a massive economic decline ensued, leading to a drop in male employment and real wages  resulting from job losses in Israel, and a corresponding rise in unemployment. Poverty rates,  including deep poverty rates, rose as gross domestic product (GDP) fell, and increasing  numbers of households found themselves living on food handouts and devising endless  coping mechanisms to make ends meet. Thus, the West Bank and Gaza—in the span of  a decade—moved from being a middle-income economy to one that is now massively aid  dependent. This same period also witnessed a sharp rise in both covert and overt forms  of violence. Israeli military incursions, detentions, manned checkpoints, home demolitions,  the Separation Barrier (along with its associated permit regime), and the Palestinians’ own  response spun a web of violence in public and private that touched the everyday lives of all  Palestinians. The violence resulting from the occupation has led to loss of life, land, property,  and free movement of people, and has fragmented social space, a key source of material  and moral support especially for women. With neither Israeli nor Palestinian legal systems  able to provide defense or protection, these momentous changes in people’s everyday lives  created a sense of collapse of the public, social, and moral order (falataan amni).

Against this backdrop, the effects on Palestinian society have been extensive and far  reaching, on relations between men and women, on intergenerational relations between the  young and the old, on ties of kinship, and on social networks. This study, through qualitative  sources, provides insights into a chain of events that have and are moderating social behavior and gender relations associated with work. The study also captures what the deteriorating  situation has meant for Palestinian females and males of all ages in terms of their economic  engagement, their ability to seek alternate livelihoods, their coping strategies, their social  and human investments (for example, education, marriage), and their future aspirations.

As the study shows, men’s role as the primary provider and protector of the family, traditionally  a mainstay of Palestinian gender relations, has been systematically undermined by economic  collapse. With the shrinking of the Israeli market for Palestinian labor and the contraction  of the productive sectors of the Palestinian economy experienced over the last seven years,  men have retreated from the labor market for lack of opportunities. With barely any options  available to them, they have flocked to the informal sector, borrowing and starting small  businesses to make up for the loss of employment and income, but the success of this  strategy has been limited. Movement and access restrictions have stymied the absorptive  capacity of the private sector in both the West Bank and Gaza and the ability to trade, and  many businesses have been forced to fold.

On the whole, men’s labor force participation never returned to the pre-crisis levels of 1999,  suggesting that many men are delaying entry into the labor market or are too discouraged  to stay in. In 2007, nearly 60 percent of working-age Palestinians neither participated in  any type of recorded economic activity, paid or unpaid, nor were searching for work.1 This  desperation was expressed during focus group discussions conducted as part of this study.  Men from refugee camps who lost their jobs in Israel complained about spending most of  their time idle, except for occasional piecemeal work offered to them by neighbors or by  job creation programs. These men also spoke about having become increasingly reliant on  humanitarian aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and other  charitable associations. Men with small plots of land around their homes have turned to  planting crops and raising poultry or livestock, but these activities are insufficient to sustain  their families.

In response to male retreat from the labor market, women have had to step into the public  sphere and employ strategies to prevent family destitution and aid dependence.  Survival  strategies have been diverse and multifaceted and include searching for jobs in the formal  sector (public sector and services), delaying their exit from the public sector (traditionally  women would have left jobs after marriage), home production of food and other goods,  selling or bartering food coupons, borrowing from neighbors, and volunteering with  charitable organizations. The nature of women’s work is not easily captured in standard  labor force surveys; often women themselves do not regard what they do as work and  standard questionnaires miss it and therefore it remains hidden from view and difficult to  assess. According to the standard labor force survey, Palestinian women’s participation  is among the world’s lowest, but it registered a slight increase during the period most  affected by economic decline and rising male unemployment, from 14 percent in 2000  to 16 percent in 2007. The increase actually remains concentrated within a handful of middle- to low-level occupations in the public sector and unpaid agricultural work. A good  share of this increased participation has been in low-status, unprotected jobs (for example,  domestic work) or unpaid agricultural work—jobs that men are unprepared to do because  the returns are too low and the status demeaning after the loss of more lucrative forms of  employment.

Many women—in particular middle-aged and those with little education—also turned to  a range of informal activities, from petty trading in Gaza, to grocery shopkeeping, sewing,  agriculture, and livestock production. Many informal activities benefited from microcredit  schemes introduced by aid agencies, with mixed results.  In some cases, women borrowed  money on behalf of their husbands, and in other cases they were constrained by the strict  repayment policies of the lender. For example, according to the director of UNRWA’s microcredit program in Gaza, lending has almost ceased and there has been a flight of  female microentrepreneurs from the informal sector of the economy, with many closing their  businesses because of bankruptcy. The lack of raw materials or goods mobility, especially  in Gaza, compounded by the massive decline in people’s purchasing power, has also  complicated these projects and created the objective conditions to close businesses.

Women’s stepped-up involvement in work in the public sphere has come at a cost: women  must carefully navigate the need to behave in a manner that is culturally appropriate with  the need for increased mobility; they must tread carefully by not overstating their new role  as provider for the sake of preserving family harmony; and they must add to their already  burdened productive and reproductive household roles, that of their increased economic  participation, particularly in the absence of a male income earner. Many of the women  interviewed expressed pride in their work but also pointed to the difficulties they face in  dealing with low-paid and unprotected jobs. In many cases, men have learned to cope with  diminishing employment opportunities and have voiced appreciation for the new roles their  wives are taking on.  Social ties and networks have acted to support working women,  although they too are suffering the weight of restrictions and economic collapse.

The overall conflict environment has permeated every aspect of Palestinian life and affected  both men and women. Violence in the public sphere—through checkpoints, body searches,  roadblocks, settler violence, and so forth—has intruded into the domestic sphere, and men  and women have had to cope under conditions of tremendous anxiety and incertitude to  ensure family survival. And while men are the direct recipients of violence, women have also  had to bear its indirect costs. For instance, although most detainees are men, women must  shoulder the responsibility of having and raising children, cooking, cleaning, running the  household in the absence of the male figure, and working to secure the release of detained  relatives (contacting human rights organizations, obtaining permits to visit the detainee, and  so on), among other responsibilities.

The collapse in the public order and the absence of justice have further corroded the  dominant image of Palestinian men as the protector of the family, disempowering and  forcing some men to retreat to the domestic sphere as they are unable to protect their  families and communities. Other men avoid the home as they cannot fulfill their domestic  responsibilities, and spend time in coffee houses, the mosque and other spaces where they  can find companionship with other out of work men. As men’s public role has diminished,  they have experienced loss of self-esteem and self-confidence. Their inability to protect or  provide, has contributed to enormous psychosocial stress on the family.

Women’s heightened role in the public sphere, coinciding with the weakening of men’s  established role, is leading to tensions within the household. Although few data are  available on the prevalence of domestic violence in the West Bank and Gaza, the limited  information that is available shows that households in which men have lost employment  because of occupation measures may suffer from higher rates of domestic violence, although  this remains inconclusive and requires further investigation. What did come across from the  focus group discussions was the ever-present anger, frustration, and short-temperedness  that men, women, and children have to contend with inside households.   In this bleak environment, family investment in education has surprisingly been on the  increase, with record numbers of Palestinian boys and girls enrolling in secondary and  post-secondary education. Education has become an insurance policy for Palestinians, and  not simply a means to gain employment. For girls in particular, higher education can bring  about better marriage prospects, enable them to supplement family income, and serve as an  insurance policy against future vulnerability in case of the loss of a male breadwinner. For  boys, education is a key to emigrating in search of more gainful employment opportunities  abroad. In practice, educated young men and women, but particularly young women, have  had a hard time finding work: an educated young women waits four times as long as an  educated young man to find work.

In addition to the challenge of finding work is the challenge of getting married. While the  age of marriage has been increasing and fertility rates—though still high—have fallen,2  other important changes are taking place within this sphere: while young unmarried  women are more culturally constrained to find good jobs, many have also expressed their  willingness to take on poorly paid or temporary work for the sake of gaining experience  and supplementing family income; while young men are often-times reluctant to allow their  sisters or young wives increased mobility (more so than older men), they also recognize  the limitations of the single breadwinner model and are thus more willing to allow their  educated sisters or wives to work.

The relaxations on restrictions on movement that have started in 2009 have not been  sufficient to reverse the trends described above: the Israeli labor market remains closed  to Palestinians, restrictions for those Palestinians living in Area C remain as entrenched as ever, and settlements continue to expand. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether tensions  arising from the changes to employment that have arisen from movement and access  restrictions and economic decline will have lasting effects on gender roles, particularly the  extent to which the male breadwinner model remains the dominant paradigm in gender  relations. The main preoccupation voiced by women and girls interviewed for this study  was their need for husbands, brothers, and fathers to be employed as this is the principal  way they will reduce their stress, anger and frustration and regain their dignity, sense of  self-esteem, and empowerment. The undignified manner in which many women have had  to participate economically—such as taking on low-paid jobs, borrowing, bartering and  enduring ‘humiliating searches’ at checkpoints —has in some ways only strengthened many  women’s desire for things to revert to “normal” and for the men once again to support  their families. Yet, there seems to be a generational shift where educated young women,  married and single are more eager to work, and to play a role in society, and their increasing  involvement in civil society organizations is one such expression of this desire. As already  noted, there are men who are coping with cycles of employment and unemployment and  who appreciate the new roles women are taking on. In such cases it is cooperation rather  than conflict that characterizes gender relations.


The most effective way to improve economic opportunities for Palestinian men and women in the  West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem is to lift movement and access restrictions which disadvantage  women in specific gendered ways. There are four additional areas where specific local actions  could create opportunities to improve family income by providing opportunities to women  and men. These actions ought to be addressed by the Palestinian Authority (PA) as it prepares  its new development plan and supported by the international community, including Israel.

1. Create and support enabling environments for safe and decent work.

•            Women’s economic participation can increase their personal security and prevent abuse  only if family members see the work as “decent” and “dignified.” The PA can promote  such an enabling environment through the following actions.

•            Support indigenous efforts to affect positive change in the law regarding equal protection  of men and women in the workplace, especially in the informal sector. The Palestinian  Labor Law enacted in 2001 provides for equal protection of men and women, and  includes specific provisions for women, but does not specify penalties for employers who  violate these provisions of law. Moreover, the law excludes large segments of the labor  force where most of the workers are women: own-account workers, seasonal workers,  unpaid family workers, domestic worker, and those involved in unpaid domestic care and reproductive work at home. Mechanisms that support women in the informal labor  market, for example, trade unions that provide insurance schemes, can enable workers  to protect themselves.

•            Enhance the role of trade unions to monitor and encourage employers to take up fairer  policies. On the supply side, given high fertility rates, provision of quality, affordable  childcare would encourage women to join the labor market.

•            Improve the regulation of the public transport sector to enhance women’s mobility. In  addition to Israeli-imposed restrictions on movement, women face special constraints  due to the lack of a safe, well-regulated public transport system. The PA can do much  to increase both safety and gender-sensitivity in the system. Such interventions could  include making the routes and schedules of public transport clear and predictable to  reduce waiting time, particularly from outlying villages to major towns; establishing  safety and service standards and ensuring operator compliance; providing a seating  area with priority access for women in vehicles that do not have dividers between seats  to ensure women can maintain proper distance from male passengers.

•           As the family operates as an economic unit, livelihood programs should focus on supporting its cohesiveness rather than promoting work for one gender over the other.  This can be done by promoting home- or community-based production systems that  involve men and women working together. This is especially important for agricultural  production, which requires the efforts of more than one family member. There is also  considerable potential for improving the production and marketing of food and artisanal  products through better processing, packaging, marketing, and advertising.

2. Support quality education and youth employment.

The West Bank and Gaza enjoys gender parity in all levels of education. Families value  and invest in their children’s education—a contributing factor to high rates of educational  attainment. Households’ investments in their children’s secondary and higher education  need to be matched by public investment in quality education that leads to employment.  Young men should not be left behind in the process of empowering young women’s entry to  the labor market; young women’s gains and social well-being depend not only on parental  and family attitudes, but on whether young men also have meaningful opportunities and  purposeful lives. Lack of hope and opportunity among young men has a debilitating effect  throughout the whole of society—but especially on the possibilities and aspirations of young  women. The PA can do much to harness the potential of its youthful population through the  following actions.

•            Develop innovative programs that promote first-time employment for young men  and women equally, especially among those with a tertiary education, by drawing on  partnerships with the private sector and civil society organizations. Even under the  current dismal economic conditions, short-term, voluntary, and make-work programs  for new graduates have proven effective in Gaza—especially for young women (as  this report has shown). Short-term income to families from such programs affirms that  investing in daughters’ education is worthwhile.

•            Expand the skills base of the young so they become more market-oriented and market-  ready—favoring skills that lead to products that can cross borders without restrictions,  for example, IT design, telecommunications, and electronics.

3. Facilitate social cohesion, especially in Area C and others isolated by movement and  access restrictions.

This report shows that when communities are able to organize, drawing on all segments  of their population (including male and female youth), they are more resilient in coping  with stress factors resulting from the occupation. Civil society and social networks play  an important role in sustaining the social capital of Palestinians in the West Bank and  Gaza under these conditions of duress. These enabling networks are key to supporting  communities that are under stress, and ensure that communities do not break down under  the pressure of conflict.

•            Promote and encourage the development of local institutions for community  empowerment as these ultimately also protect women: they can be formal or informal,  and can be a good source of involvement and experience for youth, both male and  female. These institutions can also provide much needed support (in the form of legal  advice; counseling; income support; transport; skills development; marketing assistance)  to unemployed men and women facing tensions in the household.

•            Support indigenous efforts to promote outlets of expression and debate. These can  lead to greater social cohesion and community-building and instill positive changes in  attitude toward and practice of gender roles through, for example, theater, soap operas,  chat shows, art exhibitions, and film on broadcast media.

4. Collect better data on gender-disaggregated economic participation.

Much effort has gone into the collection and analysis of gender-disaggregated data in the  West Bank and Gaza. However, the changing conditions on the ground require continual  rethinking of tools and methods for gathering information that captures as much of the  situation on the ground as possible. For example, labor market surveys tend to focus on  formal employment and often miss the hidden forms of employment in which women  are engaged, particularly in these past few years. More careful and rigorous research on  these hidden forms needs to be carried out to better capture the full extent of women’s  economic participation and provide guidance to policy-makers on supporting the three areas  highlighted above.

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