Office of International Women's Issues
February 24, 2004
U.S. Support and Assistance for Palestinian Women
Respect for women is a U.S. foreign policy priority and part of the Bush Administration’s National Security Strategy. The United States is particularly focused on broadening women’s political participation and increasing their economic opportunities throughout the Middle East, as part of the Middle East Partnership Initiative [MEPI] . The United States supports and funds numerous leadership, education and exchange programs specifically designed to equip women from all regions around the world with the knowledge and skills they need to participate in the political and economic spheres in their societies. Palestinian women are frequent participants in these programs.
Roadmap for Peace in the Middle East
The Roadmap for Peace--developed by the United States in cooperation with Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations (the Quartet)--was presented to Israel and the Palestinian Authority on April 30, 2003. The plan is a performance-based, goal driven plan, with clear phases, timelines, and benchmarks. It involves reciprocal steps by the two parties in the political security, economic, and humanitarian fields. The destination is a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
U.S. Assistance and Programs for Palestinian Women
Assistance: The United States is the highest disbursing bilateral donor in the West Bank and Gaza. In FY2003, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) obligated $174 million for programs in the West Bank that benefit Palestinian men, women and children.
- Micro-Credit: Since 1996 USAID-supported programs have granted more than 36,000 loans worth over $15 million to Palestinian women entrepreneurs. These programs have provided thousands of Palestinian women with the opportunity to transform subsistence-based existences into sustainable, income-generating enterprises. Micro-credit programs for women have proven to be wise investments with average return rates of over 90%, and, as a result, Palestinian banks are more accepting of female loan applicants.
- Women’s Centers: USAID sponsored an emergency employment generation program that included the construction of 63 community and women’s centers in the West Bank and Gaza. Courses to increase business, computer, literacy, management and other skills have been conducted in these centers, with many of them specifically directed towards women and youth.
- Mothers and Children: The USAID-sponsored MARAM Project is a $27.6 million effort to improve healthcare for mothers and children in the Occupied Territories.
- Food Security: USAID has provided $3 million for vaccine procurement and $465,000 for a food security assessment to evaluate access to food, vulnerability levels, food distribution, and trends in food availability and security in the West Bank and Gaza for the purpose of better coordinating relief and development aid. This is part of USAID’s overall food aid program, which totals $26 million.
- Integrated Services: Through the USAID Democracy and Governance portfolio, integrated health/information/awareness/access services are provided by civil society organizations are extended to particularly marginalized groups of women, including Bedouin, the disabled, and the profoundly impoverished.
- Support for Women: USAID supports the activities of a broad range of civil society organizations that advocate for and represent women and their interests. Many of these organizations work closely with the legislative council and executive branch institutions assuring the women’s interests and needs are adequately reflected in laws and policies.
- Access to Political Processes: Through USAID, the United States supports a variety civil society initiatives that support women in their efforts to access political processes. These initiatives include a Women’s Unit in the Palestinian Legislative Council, assistance to civil society organizations working and advocating around legislation that particularly affect women, and projects that empower, network, and build women’s skills.
- MEPI Women and the Law Workshop: Over 70 women from 16 countries, including West Bank / Gaza, participated in the MEPI Women and the Law Workshop from February 16-18 in Amman, Jordan. The conference, which took place under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah, was sponsored by MEPI and co-hosted by the Jordanian Ministry of Justice. Mrs. Cherie Blair also attended. The workshop covered four key topics: 1) legal frameworks relevant to women’s participation in the Arab judiciary; 2) regional judicial practices; 3) equality in the areas of personal status, including marriage and divorce, guardianship, inheritance, and labor and employment; and 4) interactive skills training on professional networking and mentoring, public legal education, and issue advocacy. This MEPI event was a follow-on to the Arab Judicial Forum held in Bahrain in Sept. 2003.
Refugees: The United States is the largest national donor to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees in the Near East and also contributes significant amounts to many other UN programs providing assistance to Palestinian women and the entire Palestinian population. The Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration has contributed $305.3 million to UNRWA since 2001. In addition, USAID has given UNRWA $37,000,000 in grants since 2001.
- Fulbright Program: The State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs provides important U.S. support to Palestinian women through the prestigious Fulbright Program. Since 1999, nearly one-half, 125 out of 280, of all Palestinian participants are women who pursue academic study and scholarly research in a variety of fields such as international relations and conflict resolution, education and psychology, information technology and business administration. The Fulbright Program with the West Bank and Gaza is one of the largest in the Middle East among non-commission countries.
- The Hubert H. Humphrey Program: Part of the Fulbright Program, the Humphrey Program brings mid-career professionals from developing countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, and Eurasia to the United States for an academic year. Fellows combine graduate-level academic work with a professional affiliation in the public, private, or non-profit sector. Fellows are placed in non-degree programs at universities around the United States in clusters according to professional and academic interests. Two Palestinian women in the last two years have received a Humphrey Fellowship valued at $50,000 each. A woman with the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University was the 2002-03 Fellow in journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia. In 2001-02, a woman from the Center for Palestine Policy in Nablus was a Fellow focused on public policy and NGO development at the University of Washington.
- USAID’s Master’s Degree Scholarship Program: Started in May 2000, this program was designed to provide competitive scholarships to Palestinians for graduate-level education in the United States for potential private and public sector leaders and managers. The purpose of the program is to address the current shortage of qualified managers in sectors that are critical to the economy, such as business administration, information technology, economics, banking and finance, and health administration. To date, the number of scholarships and breakdown per field stands at: 32 Business (MBA or related), 11 Public Administration, 15 Information Technology, 9 Urban Planning, 7 Water Resources, 9 Public Health, 2 Law, and 5 Other (Economics, Educational Administration, Commercial Diplomacy, Political Economy, International Economics). Fifty-eight scholars from the West Bank and 32 from Gaza (a total 57 men and 33 women) have been awarded scholarships. The new Presidential Scholarship program, started September 2003, will provide 70 master’s degree scholarship opportunities in the U.S. to Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza in priority fields of study that are critical to the development of the Palestinian economy and society and to the fostering of future leadership and reform. Thirty-five scholars have been selected 18 women and 17 men (14 from Gaza & 21 from the West Bank). In mid April the second group of 35 participants will be selected.
- Higher Education Support Initiative (HESI): USAID continues to provide full tuition undergraduate scholarships to talented and needy Palestinian students attending local universities and colleges. Through our efforts to support women in university and colleges, 232 of the 430 (54%) of the beneficiaries have been women.
- Community Services Program: USAID has supported Palestinian basic education by constructing or renovating 1,093 educational rooms and 383 kindergartens since 1999. These and other efforts in basic education benefited over 560,000 Palestinian females.