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Source: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
30 March 2012

Young, female and entrepreneurial: Empowering women through enterprise

Nablus, West Bank, 30 March 2012 -- At only 19 years old, Jawa has taken her passion for hairdressing, makeup and skin care, and with the assistance of UNRWA and its Spanish Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund (MDG-F) project, turned it into a business. Situated on the third floor of her parents’ home in Balata camp, every morning the salon sees a flurry of activity as girls en route to university drop by to use the products available and seek Jawa’s advice. Each customer pays between ten and 15 shekels.

Jawa is confident this is only the beginning. “I want to change locations, and I want to expand more into skin care and sell beauty products.”

UNRWA’s “Get Ahead” programme provides women with leadership training for the working world, and is part of the larger MDG goal of empowering women through enterprise. This – combined with additional UNRWA training in project management and financial administration – provided Jawa with the knowledge and confidence necessary to start a new business. A course in beauty at the women’s centre in Balata only confirmed that this is what she wanted to do. With her commitment so evident, UNRWA offered her a grant of USD 1500 to buy products and equipment that now sit on either side of the large mirror.

“This project will help me support my eight-member family. The grant allowed the basic first steps at improving my future, and without it, the salon would have been impossible,” Jawa says.

Seed grants to grow businesses and independence

The MDG-F has awarded 40 grants, ranging from USD 1500 to USD 3000 over the past year to vulnerable refugee women in the West Bank, allowing them to establish or strengthen existing micro-enterprises. Originality and sustainability are taken into account when choosing who should benefit, and an emphasis on continual mentoring has seen the recipients start small businesses that show potential for success.

The food production unit in the Kalandia Women’s Centre is another similar project with a bright future. Wafa’, 44, having attended various workshops offered by UNRWA within the women’s centre, is now part of the team funded by the MDG-F to produce snacks for the local community.

Joining forces with UNRWA’s health team, the small yet dedicated group of women is working hard to encourage healthier diets in schools and to create recipes that accomplish this. For Wafa’, the opportunity has brought more than financial security, saying that the program has helped the mother of five to develop self-confidence and overcome depression. Employment brings independence, self-worth, and hope for the future, with Jawa and Wafa’ serving as inspiring examples of this.

Partnering with the International Labour Organisation

These grants are a result of an agreement signed between the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UNRWA, supporting Palestine refugee women in the business world. The project, funded by the Spanish government, falls under the joint UN approach to achieve the gender equality millennium development goal in the occupied Palestinian territory, and seeks to assist refugee women in overcoming the challenges they face in employment.

The project activities are being implemented through UNRWA’s partner network of community-based organisations in refugee camps across the West Bank, with technical assistance from the ILO. Activities include professional skills training, marketing of Palestinian products, financial support through small loans, and community support structures for women entrepreneurs. Through this collaboration, UNRWA ensures its contribution towards the first and third millennium development goals: fighting poverty and hunger and also ensuring gender equality.

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