A report released on Tuesday by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) documenting the role of Palestinian women in the labour market said Palestinian women remain on the margins of the workforce although they generally are well qualified.

Within the current climate of mass unemployment and underpaid jobs, they bear the brunt of the crisis, playing an essential role in the coping strategies of their families and communities.

 

The report discusses how factors such as labour segregation keep Palestinian women out of salaried employment.

 

Palestinian women remain concentrated in the industrial zones, domestic work, and primarily, agriculture - a sector where the work they do is often unpaid, the Trade Union World Briefing says.

 

Many Palestinian women have
turned to home-based work

"This is our first study on Palestine which involved months of research on the ground (scanning for interviews, analysing the situation in Palestine, developing contacts) prior to and following our mission there," Barbara Kwateng of ICFTU told Aljazeera.net. 

Escape from poverty

 

The curfews, roadblocks and border closure of the occupation have led to the bankruptcy of industries traditionally employing women, such as the textile sector.

 

As a result, the majority of Palestinian women have turned to some kind of home-based employment to escape poverty.

 

Palestine's General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) general secretary, Shahir Said, said: "The most pressing need for workers is the ability to reach their workplace, so that they can bring home the bread and milk to feed their families.

 

"The Israeli secret services have themselves admitted that no Palestinian worker has ever been involved in a suicide bombing."

 

"How can we defend them (Palestinian women) when they are not considered as genuine workers by the law?"

Abla Masruja, Palestine's General Federation of Trade Unions

Unofficial work

 

Work done at home is not considered official, is not protected by any laws and does not provide women a proper salary.

 

"Because they are the first to lose their jobs, women accept deplorable working conditions, making pickles, for example, or other food products in their homes.

 

"But how can we defend them when they are not considered genuine workers by the law?" says Abla Masruja, women's coordinator of PGFTU, an ICFTU affiliate.

 

Negative trends

In addition to discrimination in the labour market, women have to cope with a rise of conservative ideas in Palestinian society and the increase in early marriages arranged by families who, driven by poverty, often are anxious to be freed of mouths to feed.

 

Palestinian Authority Minister of Women's Affairs Zahira Kamal said: "It is not for lack of education that they are not working. It's a question of mentalities and attitudes."

 

Women employed outside the home often carry the burden of moral disgrace, deterring many from even looking for work after leaving school.

 

At the end of secondary school, 80% of the best pupils are girls.

 

"Many young women don't even apply for a job when they finish their studies," Kamal said. "In such a context there are no development returns on the investment in education.

 

"Disapproval of women's work, even in the absence of a male breadwinner, is a major obstacle in the way of women seeking salaried employment," she said.

 

Family commitments

 

Fact File

The average Palestinian income is $1.70 a day

The average salary of women in the textile industry is $130 in the West Bank and under $78 in Gaza

Women account for less than 12% of the Palestinian labour force, despite having an average of 13 years' schooling

Sixty-six per cent of Palestinian women workers are employed in the informal sector

Women heads of family rose from 7% in 1997 to 11% in 2003

The poverty rate of households in which the woman is the breadwinner is 1.3 times higher than that of households where the man is head of the family

The young women who do enter the labour market often see their careers come to an end when they have children because of a lack of childcare facilities.

"For all women, it is a daily battle to meet the basic needs of the family. Getting to work, to school with the children, to the market, to the hospital or to the houses of friends and relatives ... is like trying to get round an assault course, with all the roadblocks and military operations," Masruja said.

While the election of Mahmud Abbas as president of the Palestinian National Authority has brought new hopes of progress, the report says women unionists from both sides of the conflict may play a role in advancing the cause of peace.

The ICFTU represents 145 million workers in 154 countries and territories.