Between an endless siege that chokes the economy and a traditional society facing increased gender violence, Gaza’s women have few options for survival.
By Reem Amer and Tanya Rubinstein
Over the past few weeks the Israeli media has focused much of its time on the all-female flotilla to Gaza, which was stopped by the Israeli army on the way from Sicily to the Strip. As was made clear by the recent Channel 2 report, the women aboard the flotilla are working to raise global awareness over the situation in Gaza, and are trying to make a change.
But what the media tends to miss in its coverage is the situation in Gaza itself. Women living under occupation and siege suffer from specific crises, as opposed the rest of the population. They suffer from both the Israeli army’s violence as well as the violence of their own society. They suffer from restrictions to health care, hygiene, and basic necessities, along with difficulties in areas of employment. The struggle against Israel’s policies vis-a-vis Gaza compels us to stand alongside women as they struggle for rights in their own society.
An attack on agriculture
But before we get to the women, let’s talk about the economic situation in Gaza today. The siege, the severe restrictions on goods, Israel’s control of the economy and trade in the Strip, and repeated attacks that leave behind bodies and destroyed property have caused the situation in Gaza to greatly deteriorate over the past few years. This fact influences nearly every aspect of the lives of the population there.
Economic growth has stagnated since the siege was imposed in 2006; unemployment currently stands at 40 percent; according to the World Bank, the majority of Gaza’s economy is based today on international aid, and cannot sustain itself; four out of five Gaza residents are in need of humanitarian aid.
In the past agriculture formed Gaza’s economic base. Since the siege, and especially since the 2014 war, the number of agricultural workers has declined from 60,000 to between 25,000-35,000. Among the reasons for this dramatic decrease are Israel’s repeated bombing of agricultural areas, the restrictions on movement in the lethal no-go buffer zone along Gaza’s border with Israel, spraying agricultural lands adjacent to the border fence with herbicides, the lack of unpolluted water sources, the harsh restrictions on the kinds and amount of goods that are allowed into Gaza (including fertilizers, pesticides, and seeds). And if that wasn’t enough, exporters are subject to extreme restrictions, since Israel has total control of all goods that enter and exit Gaza.
Agriculture is only one example of the siege’s deleterious effects on the Strip. Gaza has become a captive market, and most of the restrictions on imports and exports work in favor of Israeli companies that both market raw materials to and export them from Gaza.
No chance for women-owned businesses
Sixty-five percent of women in Gaza are unemployed — one of the highest rates in the world. These women are often resigned to take care of family health and welfare, all while functioning as the family breadwinners in a market with few employment opportunities, especially for them.
Due to inheritance laws and the restrictions of a conservative society, women control only three percent of assets in Gaza and six percent of agricultural land. And still, many women are employed in the agricultural sector, where they are marginalized and receive poor wages. Attempts at providing support for women to establish their own small businesses failed due to a lack of raw materials and the difficulty of exporting goods due to the siege. Thus women are left dependent on their families and the men in their lives for their livelihood — a situation common in traditional societies, which worsen in situations of siege and economic crisis.
This situation also leaves women more vulnerable to violence. A society that faces severe economic difficulties — which is surrounded by destruction and struggles to rehabilitate itself — is a society that will be pulled toward violence. And in every society, women are the first to pay the heavy price of social crises. According to reports we have received from Gaza, there is an increase in gender and domestic violence.
During the 2014 war on Gaza, 299 women were killed, 16 of whom were pregnant. At least 142 families lost three or more members, and 700 women were left widowed. Approximately half a million residents were forced from their homes, of which 20 percent have yet to return to permanent residence.
Humanitarian groups and human rights organizations around the world have warned of an oncoming humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Although there have been attempts to rehabilitate the Strip with foreign funds, it is clear that it is only a matter of time until Israel decides to attack Gaza again, rendering any attempts at the reconstructing the Strip over the past two years redundant. Restricting trade and control of the economy is just one more way in which the Israeli authorities exert power and violence, influencing every aspect of life in Gaza. Only once the siege is lifted and the occupation comes to an end can we begin to truly rehabilitate lives, families, and the economy.
Reem Amer and Tanya Rubinstein are General Coordinators at Coalition of Women for Peace. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.