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Source: Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)
5 December 2003




United Nations

New York, 2004

Executive summary

A situation analysis on Palestinian women is incomplete without due reference to the harsh living conditions of Palestinian civilians caused by the ongoing occupation of their territory by the Government of Israel. While in other territories and countries, comparable situation analyses consist of investigating gender equality in such prominent areas as health, education and labour, these are relegated to second rank in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip given the severe socio-economic repercussions of the conflict on the population. In the first three years of the second intifada, until 30 September 2003, more than 2,700 Palestinians have lost their lives, some 27,000 have been injured, approximately 7,000 have been detained, countless homes have been demolished, and the entire Arab population has suffered and continues to face constant danger, harassment and humiliation. Moreover, the mobility of Palestinian civilians, which was already severely restricted by closures and checkpoints, has been further hindered by the construction of a separation wall. This barrier of high concrete walls, fences, buffer zones, trenches and security watchtowers contravenes international law as underscored by General Assembly resolution ES-10/13 of 21 October 2003.

While the Government of Israel has persistently violated international laws since its occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967, this current phase in the conflict is having the most devastating impact on the civilian population due to the growing acts of forced evictions, seizures, and demolition and closure of Palestinian structures, including public infrastructure and institutions. Within that context, the economic and social consequences of the conflict play a vital role in shaping the opportunities, or lack of them, available to the Arab population, including women.

Consequently, the future is precarious and socio-economic development cannot be accurately predicted. While some form of statehood for Palestine is on the agenda, the territory, population and powers for such a country are still deeply contested. Positing strategies for gender equity and development must therefore take into account both the current political context and the opportunities and challenges in the wake of future changes.

The timing for this situation analysis on Palestinian women is therefore apt, given that the transitional period mandated under the Oslo Accords has ended without any progress on the political front. Despite this serious obstacle, there have been some political successes, particularly in terms of institutionalizing the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and the concomitant initiatives by different local organizations, including women's organizations, legislative councils and civil society aimed at promoting development and democracy in Palestine. However, the re-invasion of the Palestinian territories has severely influenced the daily life of the population and the operating capacities of local institutions, and has hindered and even shifted the priorities from developmental to emergency and welfare.

At a developmental level, Palestinian women inhabit a seemingly contradictory set of circumstances. While there have been noteworthy improvements in female literacy and rises in enrolments of girls and women in primary, secondary and tertiary education, these gains have been mitigated by persistently high fertility rates and comparatively low participation of women in the areas of labour and politics. Moreover, there is a general tendency of rationalizing this modest participation with religious or traditionalist justifications. This is partly attributed to deep patriarchal traditions and values in society, which favour boys and men. However, this disparity equally stems from the highly insecure financial situation in most Palestinian households and the belief that sons are better able to provide for their families in volatile times. This gender disparity in the household translates into similar restrictions in the labour force whereby the participation of women in the market is hampered to a greater extent by the challenges of a male-oriented labour market than through religious proscriptions against women's work outside the home.

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