Gaza's working women: we can do it

Gaza's working women: we can do it
Feature: Gaza's economy is crippled by the Israeli siege but a group of women are overcoming these obstacles and supporting their families, writes Rana Abdallah.
3 min read
18 May, 2015
Amal Obaid battles against the Israeli siege of Gaza

Dire economic conditions, lack of education, and engendered stereotypes, have have held women back from  finding jobs in Gaza. 

An unemployment rate of about 40 percent has also compounded problems for women in need of work.

Most people in Gaza have traditional views about the role of women. Palestinian women are mostly limited to certain social roles at home, and few households would want the women members be at an office all day.

Yet, over the past couple of decades there have been a growing number of women who are divorced or widowed and in need of an income.

Others suffer as their husbands are unable to find work due to Israel's siege. Successive wars have also seen a number of men - among others - suffer injuries that make them unfit for work.

These mothers have been left with the responsibility of finding the money to feed their children.

Soft loans

There are many women in Gaza who are in need of money but without the education or necessary work experience to find a job.

Realising this, a number of organisations in Gaza have helped women set up their own home businesses with the help of a small loan. Repayments are usually monthly and come without interest.

It has allowed dozens of women to start businesses such as embroidery, handicrafts and carpentry, hair salons, shops, farms, and kitchens.

Training courses help with skills and marketing.

Reem al-Nairab works for the Women's Affairs Centre, an organisation that has granted loans to 70 women since 2010.

"Although the programme focuses on poor housewives who are either divorced or widowed or simply marginalised, it also targeted new female graduates with the purpose of creating a quantum leap in the Palestinian market," said Nairab.

The last Israeli bombing and invasion of Gaza destroyed and damaged thousands of homes.

     After the war I had to start from scratch. So I took personal loans to get back to work.
Ghada al-Najjar, entrepreneur

These were also places where women ran a large number of micro-businesses. 

After getting divorced aged 29, Ghada al-Najjar was forced to move back with her parents with her children. She had no income, and no education.

Back to work
"It was humiliating to be a burden; to ask my parents for money for nappies or milk for my baby," she said. 

Now 39, she has resumed her education, and also now tutors local children. To pay tuition fees, she sells embroideries.

While studying, she received a soft loan and started her own workshop at her family house, expanding her work to include drawing on glass and wood.

Four years later, she graduated from college and founded the Rowad al-Ghad for Development non-governmental organisation to help other women who were in her position.
In summer 2015, her house was bombed during a raid on al-Shoka in Rafah, but was determined to get back on her feet.

"After the war I had to start from scratch. So I took personal loans to get back to work; loans that, thank God, I was able to pay back," she said. 

Gaza's only woman carpenter

Amal Obaid, a 43-year-old divorcee, is Gaza's only women carpenter. She she was given some financial aid from the ministry of social affairs after separating, but it was barely enough to support her and her disabled daughter.

In 2010, she applied for a business loan to follow her passion for carpentry. She began to fashion small gifts, frames, small tables, and trays from wood. Soon she was making dining tables and chairs.
"This career is very hard, and the siege worsens the situation," Obaid said. "The materials we need are very scarce, let alone the electricity cuts that hinder and delay my work every day."

Despite this, she and many other women entrepreneurs, are battling the constraints of the siege and using their success as proof that the occupation can be overcome.