Levelling the economic playing field in Palestine
Women’s economic empowerment is a huge challenge across the world. The challenges in Palestine are perhaps even greater than elsewhere and they are applied by internal and external forces. The ongoing occupation makes it difficult to access resources or move freely across borders. Palestine suffers from high rates of poverty and unemployment and an overall conservative cultural belief that women belong in the home.
The Palestinian Businesswomen’s Association (ASALA), which I head, was established in 2001 as a spinoff from a smaller project established under an international organization in 1997. Then, as now, its main goal was the economic empowerment of Palestinian women, which is about more than just creating income for women. While poverty alleviation for women is crucial, ASALA believes that economic viability for women should include control of income, involvement in the decision-making process and equal justice.
ASALA provides Palestinian women living in poverty with financial services such as micro and small loans to help them establish or improve their own income-generating projects. It disbursed more than 31,000 loans for women entrepreneurs in Palestine between 1997 and 2014 worth more than US$ 32 million. While the success rates of these projects vary from 45% in the Gaza Strip to 70% in the West Bank, more important is that 30% are creating additional employment opportunities in local communities.
Through capacity-building services for women entrepreneurs, we are enabling women to successfully manage income-generating projects and strengthen their skills in project management, financial management and marketing.
In addition to practical skills, ASALA provides awareness-building activities on gender equality and justice throughout Palestine. We place special focus on economic rights such as women’s access to resources, inheritances, land ownership and employment. We help women move their small projects into the formal sector.
For more established women entrepreneurs, we help broaden access to local and regional markets and work to build their networks. We help them improve production processes and improve quality, which gives them a better understanding of – and access to – value-chain mechanisms.
While we have made huge strides towards the economic empowerment of women in Palestine, much more needs to be done and ASALA cannot do it alone.
Partnership-building, networking and coordination between women’s organizations in Palestine, including those in the private, public, and social sectors, are crucial to create positive and lasting change. By combining knowledge, resources and activities, the steps we take together can make a huge difference to the benefit of Palestinian women.
Unfortunately, the donor community and many organizations continue to separate gender justice and equality programs from livelihood and economic empowerment programs. This creates a gap in the services provided to women and the transformative benefits that can be achieved.
Economic viability for women cannot be separated from the gender dimension. Economic empowerment for women is the first and the most solid step to reaching gender equality. In turn, gender equality cannot be achieved without ensuring women’s economic empowerment.
There is no doubt that women’s economic empowerment and independence is the foundation which ensures women are involved in the decision-making process at both the family and community level. Providing women with greater access to economic resources it not only increases their self-confidence, but it also gives them greater self-respect and dignity.