What are the Policies and strategies to empower rural women in Palestine
The role of foreign and international organisations in the agricultural sector
by Khitam Hamayel
Historically, the agricultural sector was considered as one of the most important Palestinian economic sectors. It was the main employer of most Palestinian men and women before the 1948 war, and became a symbol of Palestinians’ union with their land in the face of Israeli occupation following Nakba. It seems that government policies and strategies that connect with the development process1 have further marginalised women, and have ignored the important role played by rural women.
Women are totally absent from all Palestinian agricultural development policies, which are so integral to raising and improving the living standards for all of Palestinian society.
The reality is that since 1994, when the Palestinian National Authority took the reins of the executive and legislative matters in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian rural women have not been at the centre of any of their substantial policies. The only policy relating specifically to rural women is the ‘Authentication of Women’s Rights’, issued in Jerusalem, 1993, prepared by the General Union of Palestinian Women.
This total disregard of women by the Palestinian National Authority has caused additional disappointment for rural women, robbing them of their rights and opportunities to develop skills and capabilities. All of this comes despite their historic role of sharing the physical labour, and responsibility of supporting the family alongside Palestinian men.
This worrying image of rural women is completed by a package of agricultural policies that disregard rural women’s conditions, and ignore the need for the necessary tools that could provide them with the ability to access land, water, and markets in which to sell their produce.
This inequality appears very clearly in the statistics of men and women working in the agricultural sector, accounting for 11.5% of the total labour force in Palestine. The proportion of women working in this sector is estimated at only 22.2% (officially) of the total agricultural workforce. 40% of these women are working in a family business without pay, with 12% of them self-employed. Looking at ownership, 7.9% of the crop-based agricultural holdings are held by women (mostly through inheritance) versus 92.1% held by men, 7.6% of animal-based agricultural holdings are held by women versus 92.4% held by men (agricultural census 2009/2010).
These ratios provide a clear picture of the depth of the gender gap inequality in the agricultural sector, especially between those who work the land and those who own land, even though more than 70% of agricultural duties are carried out by women.
There is an eternal Palestinian struggle against illegal Israeli occupation, especially the looting, destruction, burning and confiscation of thousands of dunums of Palestinian land and crops. All of this has happened to a sector that has not been given adequate support against the destructive forces taking their land. There has been a distinct lack of logistical and financial support by the PNA necessary to stop the settlers, with only 1% of the Palestinian state budget set aside for this issue.
All of this has happened in conjunction with a weak Palestinian civil society sector, historically ineffective in defending the rights of its citizens (from all areas and community categories), not to mention how heavily the Palestinian economy relies upon international financial support.
These circumstances have paved the way for international institutions operating in the Palestinian territories to effectively take the place of Palestinian agricultural civil society institutions; they have taken on its role to support marginalised groups (especially rural women) in the community, prioritising official agricultural development policies.
International organisations enjoy benefits and influence as a result of the Palestinian economy’s reliance (almost entirely) upon foreign aid and external funding. These organisations and international institutions, through their various relief and development projects, look to improve the status and empower rural women by placing pressure on the Palestinian political decision-makers to give rural women more of their rights.
In light of these facts, the reality for rural women in Palestine needs national plans that meet their needs and priorities, to empower them, build skills and capacity which are important in improving the development process across the whole of Palestinian society.
Notes: Palestinian Development and Reconstruction Plan 2008-2010, Early Recovery Plan for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip 2008-2009 & Progress ahead Plan: strategic priority interventions 2010
About the author:
Khitam Hamayel is a social researcher and feminist activist. Khitam gained her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Birzeit University in 2008, and her Master’s degree in sociology of development, policies and social research in 2015.