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Traditional Values Make it Difficult for Palestinian Women to Find Work
A woman harvests tomatoes near Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 7. (Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Traditional Values Make it Difficult for Palestinian Women to Find Work

Gaza woman: ‘If you measure the rate of depression, you’ll find it higher than that for unemployment’

Unemployment rates for Palestinian women are sky-high, mainly because of the challenges they face in a traditional, male-dominated society, but also due to difficult economic circumstances.

The unemployment rate for women in the Gaza Strip was 57% in the third quarter of 2019, the latest period for which figures have been compiled, while in the West Bank it came to 42%, Khaled Radwan, an official at the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, told The Media Line.

In 2018, 51% of all Palestinian women were unemployed, and in 2017 the rate was 48.8%.

“But what’s shocking is that the women’s [labor] participation rate is 18%,” he said, blaming low salaries.

Haifa al-Agha, a former Palestinian Authority minister of women based in Gaza, told The Media Line that the unemployment rate for women there might actually be as high as 70%, explaining that when there is a job opening, a man gets priority, even if a woman is better qualified.

“They see men as more reliable when it comes to work,” she stated, explaining that this is a traditional view in Palestinian society.

Nevertheless, Agha says there is more beneath the surface.

“There are no new investments or projects, therefore there are no [new] jobs,” she stated. “Let’s not forget that Gaza survived four devastating wars [with the Israeli military].”

Israel and Egypt control the flow of goods and people in and out of the Gaza Strip. Israel’s military also operates checkpoints in the West Bank that hamper movement, making commerce more difficult.

Agha adds that Palestinian women suffer from the usual types of violence that afflict a third of the world’s women, “but [also] economic and social violence” stemming from Israel’s presence in the West Bank and at entrances to Gaza.

“This affects both genders and reflects negatively on society, contributing to an increase in crime, unemployment, suicide and other serious issues,” she noted.

This past Sunday, on International Women’s Day, the Popular Committee Against the Siege, a group opposing Israel’s blockade of the enclave, said the unemployment rate for women in the Gaza Strip might be as high as 90%.

Jamal al-Khudari, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and head of the group, said the unemployment rate for women there had increased by 16% in the past two years.

He blamed “Israeli aggression,” especially “the blockade in Gaza,” as well as settlements, the wall in the West Bank and Israeli control over Jerusalem.

Amneh Alrub, a retired social worker and psychologist based in Hebron, told The Media Line that male social values left no room for women to work, noting that “women are deprived of work opportunities because… they can be mothers in the future and require paid leave.”

Alrub links unemployment to a weak economy that “create[s] frustration and depression, especially among young graduates who lack experience.”

Samar Abu Ouf, a freelance camerawoman based in Gaza, agrees that Palestinian society does not support women’s participation in the workforce.

“Opportunities come only rarely, and no matter how women try and fight to work, their families, or at the very least society, pressure them,” she explained.

“Men are preferred because of the old stereotypes that females can’t do what males can, but we can,” she insisted. “I’m willing to go and cover stories at night, at any time. During the war, I was the first to cover a story.”

She adds that despite the hardships involved in working in the Gaza Strip, wages are very low, which discourages graduates.

“The situation is very difficult here,” she said. “If you measure the rate of depression, you will find that it is higher than that for unemployment.”

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