Gaza: Ten Readings of a Blocked Decade
A privileged insight into the lives of female breadwinners in Gaza. Intimate stories illustrating the devastating impact of blockade and war.
The year 2017 marks 50 years of Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territory and 10 years of land,
air and sea blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip. Three major escalations of hostilities in six years have further eroded basic infrastructure, service delivery, livelihoods and coping mechanisms.
An eight-year-old child in Gaza today has already lived through three wars. Children under 10 have only known life under blockade. 42 per cent of Gaza is unemployed, with a sad world record of youth unemployment peaking at 60 per cent and over 65 per cent among women. 80 per cent of Gaza’s two million population depends on external aid.
Prevalent violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL) are the main drivers of humanitarian needs of Palestinians and undermine already vulnerable living conditions.
The situation in the oPt has become a protracted humanitarian protection crisis with peaks of acute emergency due to war and the effects of the prolonged Israeli military occupation.
Action Against Hunger has been working in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) since 2002, aiming to reduce vulnerabilities and respond to humanitarian needs; in addition to protecting and strengthening the resilience of Palestinian communities.
The situation for the population in the Gaza Strip has increasingly deteriorated after the most recent war in August 2014 and ten years of blockade which has resulted in a lack of access to natural resources, basic services and income opportunities.
In the West Bank, severe restrictions and limited access of the Palestinian population to water, adequate housing, land and livelihoods severely hampers the socioeconomic growth of Palestinian communities. There are also alarming protection concerns that need to be addressed.
As part of our global approach on nutrition security, we intervene in a number of thematic sectors. We believe it is essential to integrate protection into all our interventions to ensure provision of basic services to vulnerable populations, aiming also to achieve gender equality. Among other sectors, we implement WASH projects in cooperation with local partners and communities. We focus on improving water access and water quality, and responding to water scarcity in times of drought and conflict. In the FSL sector, our projects aim to provide viable and sustainable sources of income and livelihoods opportunities.
Action Against Hunger is also actively advocating for the respect of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL).
Our FSL programming in Gaza aims at improving the socio-economic status of vulnerable Gazans through increasing access to sustainable livelihood opportunities.
Support to the agricultural sector: rehabilitation of greenhouses and irrigations systems, distribution of agricultural inputs and provision of training, cash for work.
Women economic empowerment: enhance access to income opportunities and greater involvement on decision making processes at community level through women cooperatives and the establishment of small businesses. Particular focus on female single-headed households.
Advocate for the respect of IHL and IHRL, including universal access to water, land and livelihood opportunities.
Our WASH programming in Gaza aims at increasing access to safe, sufficient and affordable water, reducing environmental pollution, assessing and mitigating storm water, constructing and rehabilitating wastewater networks and reducing diarrhea and waterborne diseases.
- Improved water and waste water management
- Improved access to essential services
A decade under Israeli blockade and three full-scale wars has heavily impacted the lives and resilience of 2 million Gazans. There is a worrying lack of access to natural resources, basic services and income opportunities.
The oPt Humanitarian Needs Overview (OCHA) has repeatedly underlined women’s limited access to resources and markets, which increases their vulnerability to poverty, food insecurity, and malnutrition.
During the last conflict in 2014, many households lost their livelihoods and source of income, which exposed them to multiple social and economic risks. It is acknowledged that female heads of households are known to be particularly vulnerable. Their care responsibilities to other household members including children, elderly, and the sick and injured - combined with their limited access to job opportunities - heavily hampers their capacities to re-establish their affected livelihoods.
In response to these findings, an intervention was initiated with support from the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) and the oPt Humanitarian Fund (oPt HF), in which Action Against Hunger launched an FSL project in 2016, specifically targeting 160 female single-
headed households whose businesses were damaged or lost during the last war. The main objective was to support small Income Generation Activities (IGA) in order to increase disposable income for these highly vulnerable families.
The 160 selected beneficiaries all live in the governorates of Rafah and Deir Al Balah, identified as having the highest food insecurity rates (FSS, 2015) in Gaza. In order to enhance the beneficiaries’ disaster preparedness and response capacities, the support to IGA has been combined with capacity building of the targeted women. Through managerial training courses and business plan development, the beneficiaries are better
equipped to relaunch their lost or damaged business, while simultaneously learning to plan ahead with respect to savings and for further developing their businesses in the future. The phased cash injections into the IGA were made conditional, based on verifiable reinvestment into the business.
This approach supported the women to prioritize their purchases in line with their business plans, and allowed Action Against Hunger to closely follow up the re-establishment of the businesses. 7 monitoring tools were prepared and applied to all 160 households. At this stage in the process a number of key findings have been identified:
- The establishment of IGA is helping the targeted women beneficiaries to reactivate a sustainable work
- opportunity and source of income
- The IGA beneficiaries state that traders and shops owners show more trust in their capacity to pay off debts related to business expansion
- Protection issues have also come to the surface during the project implementation. Action Against Hunger will seek to improve organizational capacity to refer cases to agencies with this specific mandate.
In the business plan of every IGA, the priorities have been identified in three phases: an establishment period of 3 months, a stabilization period of 12 months and a consolidation period of 2 years. It is currently not possible to fully assess the overall impact and durability of the approach. Action Against Hunger will continue to closely follow the supported women and monitor their businesses, and provide advice and suggestions when the need arises.
As Action Against Hunger, we are incredibly grateful to our beneficiaries and right holders, in particular the ones featured in this photo story. These remarkable women allowed us to enter their homes and ask them questions that unwillingly stirred up painful memories. They offered us a privileged insight into LIFE UNDER BLOCKADE. Many of them outlived their husbands, children and even grandchildren. Their intimate stories illustrate the devastating impact of the RESTRICTIONS imposed by the Israeli Occupying Power and the REPEATED ASSAULTS ON Gaza, on the lives and the MOST FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS OF CIVILIANS. The ten stories also reveal glimpses of many still untold stories; about domestic violence, social pressure and the multiple hurdles for women in the conservative Gaza society.
Collecting these stories was far from easy. It is challenging to obtain detailed information about the destruction of houses and businesses in a context where people confuse wars. Very often, the initial answer was limited to ‘We will find a way, Inch’allah’. The women were not keen on sharing details about HUNGER AND LACK OF ACCESS TO BASIC SERVICES, like water and adequate sanitation. They however all confirmed that they struggle to make ends meet and that RELIANCE ON EXTERNAL AID is a given.
Some of the stories accumulated so much suffering that they almost seemed unrealistic. Unfortunately, this is reality. Many have rightly questioned the ‘post’ in ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’ in Gaza. Out of respect for these women, their families, and the members who passed away, we deliberately omitted explicit details about the atrocities of the war.
Through SUPPORTING INCOME GENERATING ACTIVITIES with conditional cash transfers, combined with training courses and a very close follow-up, Action Against Hunger hopes to revive the lost or damaged businesses of highly vulnerable female-headed households. We aim to render these families less dependent on external aid and more equipped to face periods of hardship. However, a continued follow-up and support of these women is needed to stabilize their emerging commercial activities.
The women featured in this exhibition and the many women they represent, have great visions for their businesses in the future, DESPITE THE LIMITS that the blockade imposes upon them. Their ENERGY, RESILIENCE AND DIGNITY is what struck us most, and what we hope you will capture as well.