Gaza’s Recurrent Escalations Chip Away at Women’s Ability to Make a Living.
“I used to work as a secretary at the Bank of Palestine, but I lost my job in 2019. After having good living standards for seven years, I found myself in a very difficult financial situation.” Said Souad,* a 41-year-old mother of five whose husband abandoned her. “This motivated me to put my cooking skills to good use and start my own business. Today, cooking is my family’s main source of income.”
Souad is one of the relatively lucky women in Gaza who has a livelihood. According to OCHA, under the 15-year-old Israeli blockade of the strip, livelihood and employment opportunities have become increasingly scarce. Around half of Gaza’s households rely on NGO or charity assistance as one of their primary sources of income while 36.7 per cent on daily labour, and only 28 per cent on employment as their main source of income. For almost 60 per cent of Gaza’s female-headed families, charity assistance is a lifeline.
Women’s livelihood is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of blockade and recurrent violent escalations as women often operate their businesses from their homes or nearby facilities. The destruction of a woman’s home can also mean the loss of her workplace, and consequently income. A UN Women’s study of the 2021 escalation found that 18 per cent home-based businesses owned by women were destroyed during the hostilities. This has made the quest for economic independence more elusive for many women, particularly young women. Luckily for Souad, her home was not impacted this time around, but her livelihood was disrupted.
“Nowadays, most women in Gaza need to support their families through daily jobs, so when violence flares up, their daily income gets disrupted. This increases their anxiety and fear of not being unable to feed their children,” Said Souad. “For example, when the May escalation erupted, food orders stopped. Even when people placed orders, I couldn’t accept them because delivery services stopped. This put me in a very difficult financial situation. I could not buy food supplies for my business.” Said Souad.
According to the 2023 Humanitarian Needs Overview, recurrent hostilities have worsened economic conditions. Since 2007 when Israel imposed its blockade, all of Gaza’s socio-economic indicators and humanitarian conditions have continued to deteriorate. More than half Gaza’s population now live below the poverty line, and one third live below the deep poverty line. This is compounded by a very high unemployment rate. Almost half of Gaza’s population is out of work, with women being disproportionately affected. In the last quarter of 2022, 65 per cent of women were unemployed compared to 39 per cent for men. Almost 65 % of households in Gaza blamed increased competition over scarce jobs as an obstacle to finding employment, reported OCHA.
“Due to the proliferation of food catering businesses online, I receive less orders because people want to try different foods. My daily income is not sufficient. But it is still only way to sustain my family.” Said Souad
The May 2023 escalation was not the first blow to Souad’s livelihood. During the COVID-19 pandemic, her business also came to a halt. This was also the case for many women-led businesses in Gaza as the pandemic exacerbated women’s economic vulnerabilities, with women suffering more than men in almost all aspects of their labour market participation, including higher job losses and business contraction.
“Due to the COVID-19 precautionary measures, most people avoided ordering food. My income was completely cut off, except for few orders I received from relatives who trusted my sterilization methods. This forced me to sell the few pieces of jewellery that I had to buy food for my children.” Said Souad.
Despite these successive shocks, Souad is determined to sustain her livelihood, expand her culinary business, and even lend a helping hand to women in need.
“I am now part of the Palestinian Culinary Society and studying culinary arts at Gaza College. I aspire to conduct cooking courses one day.” Said Souad. “My goal is to open my own restaurant and hire battered women in need of work opportunities to stand on their own feet and educate their children.”
*Name has been changed to maintain confidentiality.