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Gaza Women Suffer on ‘Their’ Day

Growing old in Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza. Credit: Emad Badwan/IPS.

Growing old in Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza. Credit: Emad Badwan/IPS.

GAZA CITY, Mar 7 2013 (IPS) - “In Gaza we don’t lead normal lives, we just cope, and adapt to our abnormal lives under siege and occupation,” says Dr. Mona El-Farra, a physician and a long-time human rights and women’s rights activist in the Gaza Strip. On International Women’s Day, when many of the world’s women are fighting for workplace equality and an end to domestic violence, Farra and the majority of Gaza’s women fight for the most basic of rights.

“It is difficult to live in this small piece of land, where basic needs like clean water, regular electricity, proper sanitation and means of recreation are not met. Women in Gaza are particularly traumatised by the continuous Israeli military attacks,” says Farra.

A 2009 Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) report highlights the suffering of Palestinian women under the illegal Israeli-led siege imposed on Gaza for the past seven years, and under the 23 days of Israeli attacks in 2008-2009 which killed over 1,400 Palestinians, including 112 women.

The report, ‘Through Women’s Eyes’, notes Gazan women’s continued struggle “as they attempt to come to terms with their grief and their injuries; with the loss of their children, their husbands, their relatives, their homes, and their livelihoods.”

For Hiba an-Nabaheen, 24, a media studies graduate from Gaza’s Palestine University, the biggest issues facing women in Gaza are the poverty and unemployment that result from the siege.

“How can a woman whose husband has died or been imprisoned continue to take care of her children? The deadly Israeli wars we endure don’t compare to the growing poverty we face. I’m a university graduate and can’t find work, and many graduates like me face the same problem, including those with exceptionally high marks.”

From a family of ten, Nabaheen is the only child to have yet gotten a degree. “My father is disabled and cannot work, and my siblings are younger than me. Even my sister who has a 98 percent average in high school won’t find any work when she finishes university.”

Um Oday, 30, would love to work. “I have three young children to care for, but my husband is very supportive of me working, if I found work. In addition to my university education, I’ve taken different training courses in the hope that I’ll find work. But in Gaza, there is none.”

Tagreed Jummah, director of Gaza City’s Union of Palestinian Women Committees (UPWC), agrees that the siege is the main oppressor.

“The siege affects us all, but it especially affects women,” says Jummah. “In recent years, more women have been forced to become heads of the family because their husbands have been killed, are in Israeli prisons, or are unemployed as a result of the siege. But the majority of these women have no means of earning money.”

An August 2012 United Nations (UN) report, Gaza in 2020: A liveable place? cites unemployment as “higher than in the late 1990s.” The report highlights the impact on women, whose unemployment rate in early 2012 was 47 percent.

For Malaka Mohammed, 22, an English Literature graduate from Gaza’s Islamic University, and now employed at the university, higher education is both her greatest ambition and greatest obstacle.

“In Gaza, whether you are a woman or a man, you face the same consequences under the siege and the occupation. I’d like to do a Masters degree, but there is no English Masters programme here.”

For the past over ten years, Israel has banned Gazan Palestinians from studying at universities in the occupied West Bank.

“Studying abroad is very expensive, so I am searching for a scholarship, but even then I will be among thousands of people applying.”

Egypt under the Mubarak regime was complicit in preventing hundreds of Palestinian students holding places and scholarships in foreign universities from leaving the Strip.

Rana Baker, studying business administration at the Islamic University, and a freelance journalist, is active on numerous political issues facing Palestinians.

“To be honest, when it comes to the impact of Israel’s siege and colonial policies on the people of Gaza, indeed all of Palestine, I do not think that the experiences of men and women differ from each other,” says Baker.

“When Israel deliberately bombards schools, both males and females are affected. When talking about the limits Israel forces upon our aspirations, both genders share the same suffering. The Israeli government acts with indifference to the Palestinian population. The same lethal policies are applied to men, women and children in an indiscriminate manner.”

But women do have particular problems. The siege-manufactured poverty leading 80 percent of Gaza’s 1.7 million Palestinians to be food-aid dependent has caused increasing rates of malnutrition and anaemia in women.

A June 2012 joint report by Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and Save the Children notes that anaemia affects 36.8 percent of pregnant women in Gaza and that anaemia can result in “poor pregnancy outcome, reduced work productivity in adults,” and “contributes to 20 percent of all maternal deaths.”

For UPWC’s Tagreed Jummah, the Palestinian woman “represents Palestinian resilience, resistance, is strong, and is a mirror of the Palestinian struggle and steadfastness. We’ve lost families, children, and suffer under the closures and Israeli army attacks. We carry all of the suffering of our people, but we continue living and continue resisting.”

In its report on the suffering of Gazan women, PCHR highlights that prospects will not improve until the siege on Gaza is lifted and normal economic activity allowed.

“The dire economic situation means that many women and their families are sliding deeper and deeper into abject poverty. They have suffered the horrors of an illegal war, and now are struggling just to survive.”

 
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  • david

    “They have suffered the horrors of an illegal war”…
    Who started this war? Why is the Pal leadership especially in Gaza publicly and repeatedly declaring they have the right to all land from the river to the sea? – Doesn’t that tend to justify war tactics on the part of the entity so threatened. You want a stop to war? Stop rattling sabers.

  • David

    p.s How about the Pals begin to help their females by ending the misogyny inherent in Islamic sharia law. We all know how very liberated the Islamic ideology is re women….lol

  • ANTI-IGNORANT

    You are just so blatant ignorant by asking such as stupid question. I say stupid question because you ask without looking up the history of Palestine before coming up with this again, stupid. Find not the history that your kind told you, because of course they would be bias and tell you that your kind are the legit inheritance of the land. Find the real history of Palestine because then you will understand why your question is a STUPID question!
    If you know how to read and understand the news above, you wouldn’t even mention about Sharia Law.. Duhhhhhh…. I thought your kind claim to be intelligent and mighty- than-thou to the rest of the humankind.. but my my my… you prove to be the opposite. Shame on you, because you are such a humilaition to your kind for just spitting stupid, ignorant and again stupid remarks/question.
    Seek information without bias. Dont be a humiliation to your kind.

  • lightweaver1213

    I don’t know of any female, whether abroad or here in the US, who wouldn’t be empathetic to the problems and causes being fought by Gaza/Palestinian women. I wish I could say it will get worse before it gets better, and their may be some measure of truth in this, but I know from being an American woman, women have been fighting for equal rights in the work place for decades, but men still receive higher salaries and better benefit packages even when there is equality in education, socioeconomic conditions, and experience.

    As far as domestic violence, America has long been fighting to decrease domestic violence, an while things have gotten better, it still exists as does child abuse. Educating and counseling spouses adds some relief, but it is still problematic.

    With respect to the women of Gaza and Palestinian women who have graduated (some with honors), who can’t find jobs, unemployment is stifling here in the US for both men and women because our government made very poor socioeconomic decisions that has affected all Americans no matter what their social / educational background. I have a friend who lives in Morocco and he views his life as similar to that of the women in Gaza who are living in poverty. My friend speaks five languages, is very well-educated, yet the living standards are well below what I would consider as acceptable to support yourself and a family.

    It sounds to me that in the face of poverty, the government has tied our hands to a point that we cannot rise above our circumstances. We all (worldwide people) have our battles to fight in this life, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Once everyday peoples begin demonstrating in front of their governments, then they will surely feel the wrath of retribution.

    Who would believe it is now 2013 and will all the technology, education, industry and training available, basic human rights are missing in the lives of people all over the world. I don’t know what the answer is, but I definitely think that anthropologists, sociologists, economists, and the like could work together to find solutions that might actually work.

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