6. The importance of a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine continued to be emphasized during diplomatic developments and events during the reporting period. The discontinuation of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations undertaken within the framework of the Annapolis process, a destructive conflict in Gaza and a deepening internal divide despite efforts towards Palestinian unity characterized the reporting period. Recent months, however, have witnessed renewed efforts by the international community to achieve the vision of two States living side by side in peace and security (see A/64/351-S/2009/464, para. 5).
7. During the Israeli military operation Cast Lead in December 2008 and January 2009, intense fighting, high numbers of civilian casualties and extensive damage to the civilian infrastructure in Gaza were witnessed (ibid., para. 9). While figures from different sources vary, an estimated 1,300 Palestinians lost their lives and 5,300 were injured in the conflict, and 14 Israelis were killed and more than 530 injured. A majority of the casualties were reportedly civilians, particularly among Palestinians (ibid., para. 13).
8. According to estimates by United Nations agencies, the three-week conflict in Gaza led to the destruction of 3,700 houses and 2 health-care centres and resulted in damage to 48,700 houses, 15 hospitals, 41 health-care centres and 273 schools (ibid., para. 14). A survey of 2,020 households conducted in March 2009,1 revealed that 40 per cent of women wanting pre- or post-natal care during operation Cast Lead were prevented from access to such care by the security situation.2 The survey findings noted that a considerable proportion of the Gaza population reported symptoms of distress weeks after Israel had withdrawn its troops and discontinued the operation. A survey on the psychosocial consequences for women3 showed that they continued to experience extreme fear, even after a truce had been declared and the hostilities had ended.
9. On 6 February 2009, at its forty-third session, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed deep concern about the military engagement, which resulted in heavy civilian casualties and a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The Committee noted with deep concern that the human rights of women and children, in particular those relating to peace and security, free movement, livelihood and health, had been seriously violated. The Committee urged the parties to the conflict to involve women in the decision-making process on the promotion and maintenance of peace and security at all levels in accordance with Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).
10. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the continuation of the blockade that was imposed by Israel in June 2007 has triggered a protracted crisis with humanitarian consequences. The living conditions of women and men in Gaza deteriorated as a result of the erosion of livelihoods and the gradual decline of infrastructure, including basic services for health, water and sanitation, and education.4
11. Although restrictions of movement affect both women and men, concerns over possible harassment at checkpoints have curtailed women’s movement, reducing their access to education, economic participation and social inclusion. This had a particularly negative impact on the access of women heads of household to employment opportunities.2 A World Bank study noted that the high transaction and financial costs of transport as a result of unpredictable and often protracted waiting times had a disproportionate impact on women.5 Recent measures by the Government of Israel to ease restrictions in certain places in the West Bank are expected to have a significant impact on the freedom of movement and economic development of the Palestinians, if these measures are sustained and expanded (A/64/351-S/2009/464, para. 26).
12. House demolitions resulting from the requirement for building permits by the Israeli authorities in East Jerusalem and in some parts of the West Bank have continued in the past year. A total of 51,000 people in Gaza were internally displaced and are now living in makeshift shelters that provide minimal protection. Others fled to the homes of friends and relatives.6 The negative impacts on families who are displaced include the significant deterioration of social and financial conditions, including long-term trauma, family separation, disruption of family life and education, as well as increased poverty.4 Women are particularly affected by the displacement and the lack of security.
13. According to the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (A/64/339), women are particularly affected by the occupation and Israeli settlement policy. During its field mission to Egypt, Jordan and the Syrian Arab Republic, the Committee was presented with a number of cases illustrating that Palestinian women, as a result of fear of harassment at checkpoints or by settlers, increasingly felt unable to provide for their families or were afraid to move outside the boundaries of their communities.
14. The ongoing conflict continued to have a negative impact on the economic environment. In 2008, the consumer price index rose by 9.89 per cent on average in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and by 13.98 per cent in Gaza. At the same time, the average rise in food prices in the two areas was more than 17 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively. In early 2009, the rate of price increases slowed down, but prices remained high.7 Despite increases in the import of goods into Gaza since the military operation ended, the level of imports still remains at less than one fifth of what the volume was prior to the imposition of the comprehensive closure regime in May 2007, and imports are mainly food and sanitation items (A/64/351-S/2009/464, para. 16).
15. According to the most recent estimates, the poverty rate among households headed by women was 61.2 per cent, compared with 56.9 per cent for households headed by men in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in 2007. The poverty rate among female-headed households with seven or more children was 79.7 per cent, compared with 68.6 per cent for households with five or six children (A/64/77-E/2009/13).
16. Over half of the Palestinian population of working age is between 15 and 29 years of age. Those who have the possibility to complete secondary education face limited job prospects. Over half of those in the 15 to 29 age group do not have access to education or employment.8 In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the rate of participation in the labour force for young women is estimated to be below 13.6 per cent, compared with 54 per cent for young men, for the first quarter of 2009.9
17. During the reporting period, the rates of women’s participation in the labour force remained low at 15.4 per cent (16.5 per cent in the West Bank and 13.5 per cent in Gaza), compared with a participation rate for men of 66.9 per cent (68.5 per cent in the West Bank and 63.8 per cent in Gaza).9 The majority of women in the labour force have little or no education, and their low participation rates can be attributed to sociocultural restrictions, high fertility rates, and a general low level of employment caused by the various constraints imposed by the ongoing occupation on the economy.2 Women who are employed are concentrated in the farming, forestry, hunting and fishing sectors (34.8 per cent), followed by education (32.5 per cent) and health services (7.2 per cent).9
18. While there has been a continuing increase in the number of married women in the labour force over the past seven years, unmarried women comprise the majority of the female labour force. According to research conducted jointly by the Birzeit Women’s Studies Institute and the World Bank, higher education is a major factor for employment among both married and unmarried women. During the reporting period, the probability that a woman would join the labour market increased 18 times if she had a high school degree and a full 37 times if she had a postgraduate degree.10
19. Nearly 90 per cent of women in the informal economy work in the agricultural sector.11 According to FAO, women farmers face dwindling household incomes due to high input prices, and have to buy food at higher prices. Most small-holder farmers also face obstacles in marketing their agricultural products owing to the inundation of Israeli imports into the Palestinian economy and the restrictions of movement and access to goods. Families in some areas face additional vulnerabilities owing to drought and the high price of tanked water. As a result of the loss of grazing lands owing to settlement expansion, the barrier and closed military zones, herding communities are particularly afflicted with high fodder prices.2
20. According to a World Bank assessment of restrictions on Palestinian water sector development, women surveyed in a small village in the West Bank in 2008-2009 complained about poor water quality. The proximity of many wells to sewage sources led to water-related health problems and increased work in treating water for household use.12
21. A total of 40.4 per cent of 3,767,126 Palestinians currently live with food insecurity.13 The 2009 socio-economic and food security survey report on the West Bank found that 31 per cent of female-headed households were food insecure, compared with 24 per cent of male-headed households.14 In the West Bank, the food insecurity prevalence among households with more than 50 per cent women is 29 per cent, compared with the 25 per cent West Bank average.2 According to the World Bank, Palestinian families are forced to reduce their consumption and change their diets because of higher food prices.12 Preliminary findings from a survey conducted in Gaza in May and June 2009 showed that 68 per cent of female-headed households were food insecure, compared with 60 per cent of male-headed households. Food insecurity in Gaza was estimated to have increased by 4 per cent from May 2008.2 The survey also revealed that a higher number of women and girls in a household increases the likelihood of food insecurity in the household.
22. The rise in food insecurity and poverty in Gaza has resulted in an increased burden on women.2 In the event of the death, disability or unemployment of the husband, women become the main breadwinners for the family. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported an increased number of single-parent households. Older women, women with disabilities, women heads of household and displaced women and girls faced continued hardship as a result of the ongoing blockade of Gaza.4 Approximately 20 per cent of households claim that boys’ needs are prioritized when there is a food shortage at home, while the least likely household members to receive priority during a food shortage are the elderly.2
23. Education is undermined as a result of the blockade, with the delivery of essential educational materials being delayed or denied entry at crossing points. Most educational facilities have not been repaired owing to the lack of building materials. Many schools are running on double shifts to accommodate the large number of students.15
24. In the 2008/09 academic year, a total of 239,188 girls, 49.92 per cent of pupils, were enrolled in UNRWA elementary, preparatory and secondary schools. The drop-out rate for girls was 0.97 per cent, and 66.8 per cent of the students benefiting from UNRWA administered scholarships were girls.16
25. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2008, 9.1 per cent of women 15 years and older were illiterate, compared with only 2.9 per cent of men.17
26. Recent data on education indicate that women constituted 45.2 per cent of those who had completed two years or more of higher education; 54 per cent of students at local universities; 57 per cent of students at university colleges; and 37 per cent at community colleges in 2007.18 Tertiary students have limited postgraduate study options within Gaza and face great difficulties in arranging to study abroad at the postgraduate level.15 This has hindered progress in improving girls’ and women’s education, thus limiting their potential to assume leadership positions at all levels.4 Even though women accounted for 58 per cent of graduates from local universities, they represented only 16.6 per cent of academic teaching staff at universities.18
27. UNICEF reported that adolescent Palestinian girls continued to have limited opportunities for development, recreation and participation, with few safe spaces available to them. Youth clubs across the Occupied Palestinian Territory had insufficient funding and were poorly equipped and managed. Adolescent girls’ opportunities were often compromised by the burden of unpaid domestic work or pressure to marry early.2
28. The closure regime, including the barrier, checkpoints, closures and earth mounds, restricts Palestinian women’s access to adequate prenatal, natal and post-natal medical care.19 During the operation Cast Lead, maternal and child health services at primary health-care centres were disrupted. Despite the critical conditions, maternity assistance for normal deliveries continued to be provided, as was specialized health care for obstetric and neonatal complications. In many cases, however, such services were provided in improvised settings within health facilities whose maternity wards and operating theatres had been transformed into trauma units. Findings from a UNFPA assessment in February 2009 suggest that there was a 31 per cent increase in the number in miscarriages at four hospitals surveyed and a 50 per cent increase in neonatal mortality at one of the hospitals in Gaza City.20
29. The sixty-second World Health Assembly expressed deep concern at the serious implications for pregnant women and patients arising from the restriction of movement imposed by Israel on the movement of Palestinian ambulances and medical personnel, and demanded that Israel, the occupying power, improve the living and medical conditions of Palestinian detainees, in particular children and women patients.21
30. A UNIFEM study22 highlighted a high prevalence of domestic violence and violence against children, with displaced women being identified at increased risk of gender-based violence.23 Although precise figures of violent crimes committed against women, including so-called “honour killings”, are not available, organizations that provide protection services for victims of violence continued to report such cases in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. During the period from January to August 2009, at least 10 women were reported to have been killed as a consequence of so-called “honour” crimes.24 Perpetrators enjoy relative impunity for those crimes and are often sentenced to less than three years of imprisonment and serve about two years of the sentence.
31. According to the UNIFEM study,22 domestic violence was cited as the primary safety problem facing women and girls, while public and political violence was the main safety and security problem facing men and boys. The highest reported rise in domestic violence against women was among households displaced by the conflict and in the southern Gaza Strip, which also had the highest reporting of increased domestic violence against children. The study further highlighted that violence against men was more likely to be treated as a public crime, while violence against women was often treated as a private family problem. Men were 10 times more likely to report the crime to the police than women. Limited legal and public mechanisms were available to men and women victims of social and political violence in Gaza, and there was distrust of the available mechanisms.
32. The Palestinian Authority has taken measures to increase women’s participation in all aspects of public and political life.22 However, women are rarely present in decision-making positions in peace negotiations, either at the national or international level. As a result of the quota established in 2004, women’s political participation increased to 12.7 per cent in the Legislative Council and to 18 per cent in the local and municipal councils.25
33. According to the Palestinian Authority, women comprised 37 per cent of the employees in the Government sector and 15 per cent of senior employees in Government departments. Out of 15 ministers 5 are women, and they constitute 4.3 per cent of deputy ministers, 5.4 per cent of ambassadors, 10 per cent of judges and 16.9 per cent of lawyers.2
34. The Palestinian Authority endorsed the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women on 9 March 2009. It is expected that gender equality legislation will be prepared to ensure the implementation of the Convention.25 In June 2009, the Palestinian Authority, through its Council of Ministers, issued a decision requesting all governmental departments to prepare gender-sensitive annual budgets.2