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Female Toymakers in Gaza Struggle To Make It a Good Eid al-Adha Season
Women at work at the toy factory supported by the Zeina Cooperative Association in the northern Gaza village of Om Alnasser on July 15, 2021. (Hazem Albaz/The Media Line)

Female Toymakers in Gaza Struggle To Make It a Good Eid al-Adha Season

Continuous closure of crossings, domestic anti-pandemic closures were among the biggest challenges for this women’s cooperative

[Gaza] Muslims around the world are preparing for the upcoming Eid al-Adha festival, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, which is celebrated at the end of the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and begins this year in many places on July 20.

This Islamic festival has a special significance for Muslims because it commemorates the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) to follow Allah’s command to sacrifice his son before he was provided with a lamb to sacrifice instead.

The festival is considered a valuable opportunity for some businesses to flourish, including livestock, clothing trades and handicrafts. This year, however, has presented more challenges for Gaza’s small businesses in particular.

For the past four weeks, a group of 30 women from the northern Gaza village of Om Alnasser have been working hard to make Eid al-Adha gifts and hand-made stuffed sheep toys to sell during the festival season and earn some kind of living amid the devastating humanitarian and economic breakdown of the coastal enclave.

Supported by the Zeina Cooperative Association for Handicrafts, which is the only institution for women operating in the marginalized Om Alnasser village, the female toymakers have managed to overcome the social barriers of the conservative community which puts many limits on women’s freedoms.

“When we first started working with those women, in 2015, we faced major difficulties in persuading their families and relatives to let the girls work with us,” Majeda Ermelat, an administrative assistant at the Zeina cooperative, told The Media Line.

But over time, and with harsh economic hardship striking the village, the situation has changed.

“Given the financial benefit from work, the girls’ families have become more open and flexible so that even more girls are joining us nearly every year. In fact, the women themselves have entirely changed and became more self-confident and independent so that they can go for trainings outside the village on their own,” Ermelat claimed.

In my case, working in the toy-making business was a life-changer, not only economically, but personally too

Amal Abughazal, who is the head of a seven-member family, is one of the female toymakers who has experienced significant development after working in the business.

“In my case, working in the toy-making business was a life-changer, not only economically, but personally too,” Abughazal told The Media Line.

Abughazal’s husband can’t work because of a mental illness and her daughter is visually impaired. “With the high treatment costs and the burden of daily needs, I had to do something for my family. But now, after being productive, I can fulfill some of my family’s needs, participate in making the important decisions, and express myself better,” she said.

The financial need forces communities, mainly conservative ones, to change their mindsets about the role of women in the family, Gaza-based psychologist Raeda Weshah told The Media Line.

“When women work and financially participate in supporting the family, they have some kind of power to pressure the traditional perceptions of their society, which, for so long, have derailed them and limited their potentials. That’s why we notice that working women in those communities are happier, have stronger personalities and a wider role in decision-making compared to before engaging in business fields,” Weshah said.

Making stuffed puppets and toy sheep gave the women some space to breathe, but some of the female toymakers have bigger ambitions.

Mona Alnahal, a female toymaker in the carpentry department of the Zeina cooperative, has a bachelor’s degree in Islamic studies but has had to work in this field due to the poor financial condition of her family.

“The financial condition of my family stood in the way of my dream to specialize in other majors such as accounting or business administration. I would love to be something bigger, somewhere else,” she told The Media Line.

Alnahal hopes that one day she’ll achieve her dreams because “nothing can stop a woman if she is determined,” she said.

When women work and financially participate in supporting the family, they have some kind of power to pressure the traditional perceptions of their society, which, for so long, have derailed them and limited their potentials

Despite their huge efforts, the women’s small business faced some serious challenges during the production process but eventually survived.

“The high prices of raw materials due to the continuous closure of crossings, and the [domestic] anti-pandemic closures, were the biggest obstacles to our work. But eventually, we managed to succeed and help those girls and their families,” the executive manager of the cooperative, Haneen Alsammak, told the Media Line.

According to Ermelat, the group of women managed to participate in local exhibitions and sell significant quantities of their hand-made products for Eid al-Adha.

“Earlier this month, we participated in the Maraya exhibition where we sold most of the stuffed and wooden sheep toys of different sizes, with an average price of nearly 15 shekels, nearly $4.50, for each toy; the kids and visitors of the event have been able to buy Eid products and enjoy the festival spirit,” she said.

 

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