Gaza’s caretakers become its breadwinners

by Isra Saleh el-Namey, The Electronic Intifada, Gaza Strip, 29 September 2015. 
Isra Saleh
el-Namey is a journalist from Gaza.
Ashraf Amra APA Images
Amal Abu
Ruqayiq, a divorceé raising a daughter with special needs, works in her
carpentry shop in Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza in March 2014.
Five years
ago, Soha Masri lost her husband because of an Israeli air strike on Gaza.
Becoming a
widow placed her in financial peril. She had three daughters, all of whom had
plans to study at university. How could she support them?
Masri, now
aged 45, took the initiative of setting up a small poultry farm in Nuseirat refugee camp. She began selling the food
produced on it to relatives and neighbors.
“It is not
an easy job to take care of the chickens,” she said. “But I try my best so that
I can make enough to pay part of my children’s expenses.”
Many other
women in Gaza are in a similar situation. Although men are usually the main
breadwinners for their families here, their death or injury leaves their wives
having to perform that role.

Manal Azizi
set up an embroidery business for traditional Palestinian dresses after her
husband was left paralyzed when Israel bombed Gaza for eight consecutive days
in November 2012.
She lacked
much of the equipment required at the beginning. “Yet I did not give up,” she
said. “The work goes on.”
34-year-old has to take care of four children, as well as her husband.
Destitution and dependence
The United
Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) recently described female unemployment in Gaza’s formal economy as “severe.”
Among Palestinian refugees — the majority of Gaza’s
inhabitants — 8 out of 10 young women do not have a regular job outside the
home, according to an UNCTAD study.
The study
states that Israel’s 51-day offensive against Gaza in the summer of 2014 sent
almost all people in Gaza “into destitution and dependence on international
humanitarian aid.”
predicts that the implications will be long-lasting. “Prolonged spells of
unemployment deskill workers, rendering their education and training obsolete,”
its report states.
The problem
of unemployment has also been exacerbated by the siege
that Israel has imposed on Gaza since 2007.
It has
prevented Palestinians there from selling goods outside the territory.
Activities on which many women relied for income — such as flower exports —
have been badly affected.
Gaza-based Women’s Affairs Center offers help to those wishing to set up small
businesses. Each year it receives hundreds of applications for support but it
has to prioritize just 10 projects. Most of those who approach it are either
widows or divorced.
“During last
year’s summer war, many women lost their businesses — or their business lost a
lot because of the fierce Israeli bombing,” said Reem Nerib, a center
“We are
faced with many problems in our efforts to assist destitute Palestinian women,
particularly a lack of donations,” she added.
“All I can do”
Awida, 38, gives private classes to children of primary school age at her home
in al-Bureij, a refugee camp in central Gaza that
was heavily shelled by Israel during July 2014.
She has five
children and her husband has been unable to find full-time work.
“I have a
university degree, but getting a job is almost impossible in Gaza nowadays,”
she said. “This is all I can do.”
Despite the
scarcity of aid for small firms, numerous women are displaying a spirit of
Qalban, a 40-year-old mother of six, started a food business because her
husband is too ill to work.
She supplies
cakes and maftoul — Palestinian couscous — to supermarkets in the Khan
Younis area of southern Gaza.
After a
while, her business was able to provide a number of people with jobs. “I was
really happy when some of my needy neighbors joined me in this project,” she
said. “It is better than waiting for other forms of support.”