Women and the economy of Gaza

Dr. R. is the founder of a consulting firm that provides services to a number of organizations and businesses in Gaza. While she has managed to build a successful business in Gaza, her ability to expand her clientele and grow her business further have been curtailed by Israel’s travel restrictions. She is not considered a “trader”, who transports goods in and out of Gaza, but rather markets her expertise as a consultant and thus does not fit any of Israel’s criteria to travel for professional opportunities. The criteria includes travel for traders transporting goods to and from Gaza, a select number of senior businesspeople and travel for conferences related to reconstruction only. This past year, Dr. R. was invited to speak about the Palestinian economy at a conference in Jordan. However, travel to attend a professional conference of this kind is not within the criteria for travel and her application to attend the conference was rejected. She was not able to take advantage of this impressive professional opportunity for no good reason whatsoever.

Dr. R. seeks to employ women and provide women with the professional opportunities she has had, however the odds are stacked against her and her colleagues in more ways than one might imagine at first glance.

The closure of Gaza and severe movement restrictions impact the lives of all of Gaza’s nearly two million residents, but in the realm of professional life, they impact women in particular ways.

Since 2007, travel of people in and out of Gaza has been restricted to what Israel considers “exceptional humanitarian circumstances”, while movement of goods in and out of Gaza is also heavily regulated by Israel. These restrictions caused the near collapse of Gaza’s economy, soaring unemployment and increased dependence on humanitarian aid. Exceptions to the rule of closure allow for traders to travel and to market goods. However women, who tend to work in civil society organizations and public services or own small businesses, do not meet Israel’s criteria for travel or for marketing goods.

As a result, women who in the past had worked or sold their goods outside Gaza, now find themselves unemployed and unable to make a living. Women are an integral part of any healthy and thriving workforce and have immense potential to contribute to Gaza’s economic development and prosperity.

Movement restrictions are one of the key obstacles for women seeking to develop in their professional fields:

85% of women in Gaza’s workforce work in service jobs, such as teachers and nurses, a sector whose workers are not eligible to apply for permits to travel for professional opportunities according to Israel’s narrow criteria for travel.

Of a quota of 350 senior merchant permits (Businessman Gaza or BMG), that allow for travel out of Gaza regularly for professional and economic opportunities, only four permits were held by women. Recently, two of those permits were revoked. As of December 2016, only 70 BMG permits were active, of which two were held by women.

In Israel’s criteria for travel, there is no category for staff of civil society organizations from Gaza, where women are highly represented, to exit Gaza to attend conferences, meetings and trainings, limiting their ability to advance in their field.