New report demonstrates how the role of Palestinian women is changing in the face of violence and long-term economic hardship
Palestinian women have been forced to find work to prevent family destitution at the same time as protecting masculine self esteem to preserve family harmony. These are the findings of a report by CARE International, The World Bank and the Women’s Studies Institute (WSI) at Birzeit University.
Economic collapse (the West Bank and Gaza has moved from being a middle income economy to one that is now massively aid dependent in the span of a decade) has systematically undermined men’s traditional role as the primary provider and protector of the family. Women, ill-equipped by training, experience, or expectation, are having to become breadwinners, in addition to their traditional roles, by searching for jobs in the formal sector (public sector and services), delaying their exit from the public sector (traditionally women would have left their jobs after marriage), producing food and other goods, selling or bartering food coupons, borrowing from neighbours, and volunteering with charitable organisations.
However women also have to negotiate the effect their new role of provider has on men. With men of all ages experiencing the daily fear and humiliation that stem from violence, conflict and unemployment, they retreat, depressed and emasculated. Women, eager to preserve tranquillity at home, have to tread carefully in a terrain of disrupted gender roles.
A woman in Jenin City said: “I have to think carefully about how I manage myself and what I say. For example, I can’t just come home and give him the money I earn. This would make him angry and depressed. He would feel like a failure for not being able to earn it himself. Instead, I leave it on the TV. I don’t want him to feel he is not the man of the house.”
Martha Myers, Head of CARE International in the West Bank and Gaza said: “Palestinian women are finding ways to cope with the poverty and conflict they find their families facing but their strategies represent a double blow. First, they are assuming extra burdens, work, and responsibilities. Second, they have to manage this in the context of traditional roles and perceptions and the men in their lives who are increasingly isolated and frustrated by their inability to provide and care. The hardships of Palestinian women will only be reversed with the lifting of Israel’s economic restrictions”.
The report states that only sustained lifting of economic restrictions by Israel will reverse negative trends, but recommends that the Palestinian Authority can take specific action in the immediate term by:
* Enabling employment for women that is perceived as “dignified”, especially through improvement of public transport regulation and enforcement of labour law.
* Supporting and expanding opportunities for youth employment.
* Facilitating social cohesion, especially in Area C and others isolated by movement and access restrictions.
* Collecting better data on gender-disaggregated economic participation.
“Checkpoints and Barriers: Searching for Livelihoods in the West Bank and Gaza—Gender Dimensions of Economic Collapse” can be downloaded from http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWESTBANKGAZA/Resources/GenderStudy-EnglishFeb2010.pdf