SEATTLE, Washington — Since Israel and Egypt have placed a siege on Gaza’s borders, airspace and waters in 2007, the quality of life in Gaza has harshly declined. Now, in its 13th year, this blockade has isolated Gaza’s economy, leaving the majority of its population of two million trapped in a cycle of poverty. To further complicate the issue, internal political strife between the Hamas government, Israel and the Palestinian Authority has left Gaza residents with limited access to clean water, food, electricity, education and healthcare. This causes an urgent need to address women and poverty in Gaza.
From 2011 to 2017, poverty rates in Gaza increased from 38.8 to 53 percent. Today, poverty in Gaza is estimated at 60 percent. Jobs are scarce, and job security is obsolete. Farming areas have been decimated by frequent invasions by Israel. The fishing industry, which had been central to Gaza’s economy for centuries, has stagnated as Gaza fishermen are barred by the naval blockade and are only permitted to fish within three nautical miles of the coast. About 46 percent of Gaza’s population is unemployed, and 77 percent of the unemployed population are women.
Women and Poverty in Gaza
In the Gaza strip, only 11 percent of women are employed, as opposed to 58 percent of men. Households headed by females are 1.3 times more likely to fall into poverty than male-headed households. This is mostly because women are disadvantaged as income earners, earning lower wages and having fewer social benefits than men. Women in Gaza also endure barriers against exercising property and inheritance rights, accessing credit and affording childcare facilities that would allow them to work outside of the house.
Further inhibiting the earning power of women, it is more common for girls than boys to be taken out of school when household funds decrease. Sanuora, a divorced single mother in Gaza with six children, had been forced to drop out of school at just 11 years old. The inability of many women to work well-paid, full-time jobs in Gaza leaves them reliant on social assistance and foreign aid, both of which are decreasing in the area. In Sanuora’s case, she also relies on financial support from her friends and relatives as well as loans. However, Gaza’s worsening economy means her extended family can offer less and less support.
In an interview with the United Nations, Sanuora says, “Every day is worse than the previous one. My brother is out of work and my friends and family can no longer afford to support me. I had no choice but to take on additional loans to avoid my children sleeping on an empty stomach.” Because of these loans, Sanuora must allocate some of her monthly social assistance money to repaying her debts.
Women’s Limited Access to Resources
Women in Gaza also have limited access to healthcare, especially regarding reproductive health and family planning. This further entrenches women in poverty in Gaza. Families unable to afford more children still continue to have them. However, if their financial situation worsens, it is the female children who will be taken out of school, setting them up for a lifetime of disenfranchisement.
The electricity and water shortages in Gaza further complicate the lives of these women. In a strategic effort to pressure the Hamas government, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have purposefully restricted Gaza’s electricity supply. Electricity used to be available for eight hours each day, which was enough time to cook, heat the home and complete other work. But now, households are forced to get by with just six hours of electricity a day. On top of this, 95 percent of Gaza’s water supply is contaminated by sewage, forcing residents of Gaza to buy water at six times the standard global price.
Organizations Helping in Gaza
There are organizations trying to alleviate the poor living conditions in Gaza. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) continues to give aid to the Gaza Strip through jobs. As the largest employer in the region, it employs about 13,000 Gaza residents. UNRWA also provides schools, education, shelter, food and cash assistance to Gaza residents.
Another organization based in Gaza, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), works to protect human rights in the city according to global standards. PCHR has been instrumental in preserving some standard of living for the people of Gaza since it works to encourage international financial aid to the city, on which its people are becoming increasingly reliant. Both of these organizations have been important in addressing women and poverty in Gaza as well as working to employ, educate and protect women so that they can escape poverty.
For women in Gaza, the economic crisis brought on by the Israeli-Egyptian blockade makes life especially difficult. With limited work and resources, their quality of life worsens a little bit every day. International aid helps to lessen financial stress for women and families, and internal organizations work to preserve their human rights. Yet, conditions for these women and poverty in Gaza will not improve until peace is established in the region.
– Jillian Baxter