On the occasion of International Woman’s Day this week, we decided to look at situation of women in the Gaza Strip. Out of 1.5 million people in the Gaza Strip, women comprise 49.2% of the population. The percentage of women in the labor market today is 12.2% of the total workforce, a percentage that is considered low when compared to other countries in the world.
We interviewed Muna Al-Almi, Manager of FATEN, an organization that provides loans and business development advice to women, in order to understand the unique situation of women in Gaza.
When was FATEN established and what are its aims?
The organization was established in 1998 with the aim of providing financial services to low income Palestinians, principally women. We support projects that can help women improve their lives and position.
Whoever receives a loan from the organization undergoes training that we provide with the help of civil society organizations, with the goal of helping women in different areas, for example: time management, marketing, pricing of goods and women’s rights. This is with the aim of educating women about their rights as women and as workers.
Our loans vary between $500- $5000 and are paid back over a period of 24 months. The criteria that guide us in our decision to finance a business are mostly good management and planning, and also the extent to which the business is intended to serve women. Examples of businesses that have received loans include: candle and jam manufacturers, agricultural businesses, a poultry farm, a cosmetic business, and financing a women-run pharmacy. Other projects that mainly employ or provide services to women include: embroidery, home cooking and sales.
We focus on women because they comprise the weakest section of society. We have many families who are financially dependent on women, where their husbands have died, been killed or have been disabled as a result of the difficult circumstances of the conflict or are completing prison terms in Israeli jails.
Many women turn to us for help, they don’t feel that there is a risk in taking a loan to open a business because in our society it is acceptable that women are forced to work and support their children. The women compete with men in the sense that they go out to work in order to support their family and this empowers them. Sometimes women do this better than men.
How has the closure impacted FATEN and its clients?
The closure has affected all residents of Gaza and impacted a big percentage of the women that have taken out loans. These women in the past purchased their raw materials from Israel, whether these were textiles or industrial goods. Since the closure, these materials are not permitted to enter Gaza. In addition, a lot of men have stopped working in Israel. This also impacts women greatly, and requires them to have to look for work. They are forced to become integrated in the job market in order to support their families.
At the start of the closure, the women did not honor the loan repayments which they were supposed to return to FATEN. Some of the businesses did not receive projected profits, because the business plan was conceived according to the conditions in place before the closure. We helped women via training and financial support for businesses that were on the verge of bankruptcy.
We started to think about alternatives as a means to adjust to the new conditions and the rising prices of raw materials as a result of the closure, such as providing limited finance to established businesses in order to prevent bankruptcy.
Moreover, instead of supporting industries requiring raw materials, we financed businesses that do not need raw materials that are not available in Gaza. So, for example, there is a preference for embroidery instead of jam manufacture that requires jars that cannot enter Gaza. We have been forced to be creative in order to operate in a manner that suits the conditions in Gaza. Despite everything, we continue to encourage women to become integrated into the labor market because of the rise in the unemployment rate and the decline in per capita income in the Strip as a result of the closure.
What are the needs of women in Gaza?
For women in the Gaza Strip there is a need for stability and security in order to realize their dreams and to provide a dignified life for their children. Women in Gaza also need to work in order to advance equality between women and men. They need society to look at women differently, and for views that do not support women going out to work, not to be encouraged. We need to promote women to aspire to be even more active.
Women in Gaza need more opportunities for work, but not only this. They also need opportunities to express themselves and for new opportunities to open up for women.
As the manager of an organization that supports women, what is the message that you give to the women of Gaza on International Women’s Day?
Our message is that women have an important role in breaking the closure. She needs to go out to work and to show the world that despite the hardships, she has the power to change the situation. Our work assists women in all respects, from loans to training, business management and the rights of women in general. I hope that the closure will end and that we will see stability in the Palestinian Territory, especially in the Gaza Strip. We hope that the borders will be open so that women will have opportunities to change the economic situation of our society.